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Ask HN: Learning about philosophy
257 points by rupi 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 284 comments
Are there any books that are considered a must for someone new to the field of philosophy?

I understand it is a vague question but it is a topic I have recently become interested in because of digging deeper into mental models. Mental models address a lot of 'practical' situations but I am realizing that they fall short when it comes to bigger questions of life.

What path did you follow to develop a personal philosophy?

The best way to learn about philosophy is to take a good introductory course.

Books aren't nearly as good because you won't get to discuss the ideas with other students who are also learning the subject, which is half the fun and half the point of philosophy. You'll also miss out on the insights and explanations of the professor, which will be very valuable, if the professor is any good.

As for books, the Socratic dialogues are probably the best place to start, since the ideas pretty easy to grasp compared to later philosophy, they're written in an engaging way, and give you plenty of food for thought. Also, much of later Western philosophy is a reaction to, comment on, or has been influenced by Socrates and Plato. You'll be much more "in the loop" after getting some familiarity with ancient Greek philosophy than if you just dived straight in to later work.

Something else you'll want to be aware of is that in contemporary philosophy there are two major approaches: Analytic and Continental. Adherents of these approaches generally despise one another, denigrate, or ignore one another's work, though at least more recently the Analytics have been starting to read, re--envision, and appropriate Continental thinkers.

The Analytic approach dominates philosophy in the English-speaking world (and is coming to dominate the rest too), and when you take philosophy courses that's the view you'll most likely be exposed to, and it's Analytic philosophers you're most likely to be recommended when you ask about philosophy, especially on sites like HN, which are more likely to be peopled by fans of logic, rigor, and science, which Analytics themselves are huge fans of.

But your exposure to philosophy would be incomplete and probably really biased if you were mostly exposed to Analytic thought or viewed philosophy primarily through an Analytic lens.

This is such a good point. Pretty much any human endeavor (philosophy, startups, physics, mathematics, literature, music, art, physical training, etc) can be much more fruitful when done in collaboration with others who are also trying hard. This is why cutting edge research continues to be done in universities, and why YC is so successful.

As a fan of both analytic and continental philosophy, I can also confirm that professionally trained analytic philosophers tend to be biased and limited in their arguments. But aren't we all.

I agree: it's essential to expose yourself to broader works of philosophy. I would extend this beyond Europe to Asian works of philosophy, and aboriginal and indigenous stories across the world. Outside the Eurocentric philosophy bubble, it can be harder to disentangle philosophy from religion, culture, and myth, but that's part of the fun.

How idiotic would it be if there was a book called "A Perfectly Complete and Eternally Correct Encyclopedia of Philosophy", and we all read it and called ourselves 'philosophers'.

Well, but we are all philosophers -- lovers of wisdom -- or at least all who begin to ask about it are. Sure, it would be idiotic to say that such a book is the end of philosophy, but actually such a book as the beginning of philosophy seems pretty valuable. You need a comprehensive starting point to tell you give you some Wikipedia (or SEP) rabbit holes to go down.

Here is one very specific recommendation for a place to start: Richard Rorty, and in particular, his book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature."

I've suffered through the tension between the Continental and Anglican worlds, and I think that Rorty is extremely valuable as a bridge between the two, and potentially an entry point to the one you're not familiar with (or both if you're familiar with neither).

Given the original question (about "mental models"), the Philosophy of the Mind is one of the more universal topics, that tends to be less controversial across the different schools of Philosophy. That Rorty book is a decent entry point to it, which will lead to things like...

A debate between Rorty and John Searle about consciousness (Searle is a mind-is-not-the-brain person):


Correspondence between Searle and Dan Dennet about the mind (Dennet is a brain-is-a-computer person):


> Outside the Eurocentric philosophy bubble, it can be harder to disentangle philosophy from religion, culture, and myth, but that's part of the fun.

maggie thatcher didn't say "all problems come from outside europe". she said "in my lifetime all our problems have come from mainland europe and all the solutions have come from the english-speaking nations of the world"

i think you're a bit mistaken about the nature of the analytic-continental divide

Sorry, when I say Eurocentric, I include the UK. Europe for most people still includes the British Isles, regardless of the preferences of certain conservatives.

Also, wow that's an ignorant quote. Let me rephrase it: "We have no internal problems. All of our external problems during a 60 year period have come from our neighboring countries, and all the solutions are the ones we and our allies came up with." Genius. (sorry for the snark). Is your argument that the analytic-continental divide is just Thatcherite Anglocentrism? Because I really don't think it is.

> Sorry, when I say Eurocentric, I include the UK.

That's my whole disagreement. The analytic-continental divide is a split within the western world. But you present it as if the non-eurocentric world is more conducive to the continental tradition, when even the concept of eurocentrism not only comes from europe, but it comes from the continental tradition through hegel's philosophy of history and his predecessors.

I'm sorry but you misread the comment you replied to. It was taking analytic and continental philosophy as a whole (western philosophy) and was encouraging philosophy students to go beyond it and also look into non-western philosophy.

> you present it as if the non-eurocentric world is more conducive to the continental tradition

Ah okay, I see the confusion: I mean "western philosophy".

An excellent point. I recommend Siddhartha as an introduction to other paths. Yes it’s a novel and yes it’s written by a white European, but I think that’s what makes it valuable as a bridge.

This conversation between Siddhartha and the Buddha is always relevant. Siddhartha must leave because Buddha himself did not achieve enlightenment by reading and studying the Buddha’s teaching. He found his own path there.

I think about this a lot when, say, a Paul Graham essay makes the rounds. There’s a sense that “to become like X, I must read them and do what it says so I might become them.” But of course they didn’t become who they read, were not The Next Steve Jobs. They were the first of themselves.

I liked the instructor I had for my 101 class and really didn't enjoy the discussions at all. So much of what people raised didn't engage with the material, questions that were straightforward to address, or simple clarifications (that they asked as 'gotchas' more than out of confusion).

I think it's unfortunate that so much of the pedagogy is focused on following the history. Of course it's useful for people that plan on continuing with it, but it's a terrible introduction.

I strongly disagree with the recommendation to start with the Socratic dialogues.

OP wants to "develop a personal philosophy." So they will want to learn the state of the art of philosophy. Starting with Plato to learn philosophy is like starting with Archimedes to learn physics. They would be much better off getting a lay of the land from a modern writer. In fact, just as you don't read original research papers to learn physics, I wouldn't recommend OP even read the primary works of any influential philosophers until they've gotten an overview of philosophical thought writ large, a general outline of the specific philosopher's thinking and how it changed over time, and how the philosopher's thinking influenced others. Wikipedia would be a great place to start.

There is simply too much philosophy for any lay person to read thoughtfully in their spare time. And philosophy isn't like math or science, where a small kernel of knowledge and consensus among scholars slowly grew over time. It's more like sculptors shaping clay into pots. Subsequent sculptors may immitate past artists in certain ways, and certain long term trends may emerge, but there is a distinct lack of consensus on almost everything in philosophy.

In my opinion, the reason for this is that philosophy as a means of understanding ourselves and our world beyond what science can tell us is essentially futile. In Plato's time, there was no delineation between science, philosophy and mathematics. The word "philosophy" meant "love of wisdom" in Greek. A philosopher was just someone who wanted to discover knowledge of any kind. Over time, philosophers systematized certain areas of knowledge, giving us math, logic, and science. The areas of knowledge that we were able to systematize are no longer considered to be philosophy. Philosophy today, almost by definition, is the study of problems that have resisted all attempts at systematic understanding for two thousand years. It has no wisdom for us. If you want wisdom, look to math and science.

"Philosophy today, almost by definition, is the study of problems that have resisted all attempts at systematic understanding for two thousand years. It has no wisdom for us. If you want wisdom, look to math and science."

What do math and science study? What is the proper subject of chemistry or physics? That question such questions are not something math or science can answer.

When you've got some knowledge (say from science), what do you do with it? That question, again, is not something science can answer.

Which course of action is right or wrong? Again, science can not do otherwise than to be silent here.

Mathematics is widely considered to be the foundation of and one of the most useful tools that science has, yet it itself is based largely (if not completely) on logic. Logic is part of philosophy. The foundation of mathematics (as distinct from logic) is also a branch of philosophy.

If you look at the deepest, most critical questions that science tries to answer, at the core of them is often a philosophical question that at least up to now has been intractable to scientific study. I'm talking about things such as the nature of consciousness or the mind, deep questions in physics also blend almost seamlessly in to philosophy -- things such as the nature of time and causality.

Now, it may be the case that at some point in the future science will have some convincing answers and explanations to these questions, but the belief that it will is a form of faith in science that is often termed scientism -- something which is distinct from science itself, and is not subject to scientific inquiry.

Also, when you say that "If you want wisdom, look to math and science", do you know what you mean by the word "wisdom"? Are math and science sources of wisdom or merely of knowledge, and what's the difference? All philosophical questions.

How about whether science helps us to get closer to truth? And what is truth anyway? Again, all philosophical questions which science can not answer.

I would argue that the most important questions for most people are not scientific or mathematical questions, but philosophical ones -- such as:

- "what should I do with my life?"

- "what is the purpose of my life or of the world?"

- "should I help someone in need or help myself?"

- "what subject (including mathematical or scientific subject) should I study or work on?"

- "who should live or die, be punished or rewarded?"

- "how should we structure our society?"

- "how should we as a society or as individuals spend our money?"

Science can offer no tools to help us answer any of these most pressing and practical of questions. At best it can give us some indication of what has happened or would happen if we chose a certain course of action, but is silent on what we actually should do or what the purpose or meaning of anything is.

Even the question of how science itself should be conducted is not open to scientific inquiry.

Usually people answer these questions for themselves in some ad-hoc way, usually without recognizing that they are philosophical questions, and usually unconsciously adopting some many-hundred-year-old philosophical position which has be passed down to them through the culture around them by osmosis. If they studied, read and thought about these questions, they might actually make more informed decisions.

I agree with both you and GP at the same time. Here's what splits the difference: science can't help us answer your list of genuinely crucial and relevant questions... but neither, really, can philosophy.

GP is fundamentally right that those questions have proven intractable to philosophy. Philosophy is a standing list of all the theses put forward as solutions to those questions. But even people who are fully engaged with, have a stake in and spend their whole lives wrestling with such questions can come to diametrically or orthogonally opposed answers.


Philosophy offers lots of frameworks, tools, prior art, etc. to tackle such questions with. But it can offer you no sure answers and no means of mediating between potential answers.

Science, while it has huge blindspots and terminal unanswered questions, can goddamn perform in the areas that are well-trodden.

"those questions have proven intractable to philosophy"

There are plenty of philosophers (and non-philosophers) who've thought they did in fact answer such questions, so they would not agree with you that these questions have been intractable.

What philosophy lacks is the broad consensus that science has, there's also arguably no way to "objectively" tell who is right in philosophy, as what that even means or what standards we use is itself open to debate.

"it can offer you no sure answers and no means of mediating between potential answers"

If you agree with someone about the ground rules and assumptions, then you can judge and by some such standards there have been "objectively" provable answers and "progress".

But is philosophy's function to find answers?

Many would say that it's actually more about helping you to find questions.

I've heard that in science finding the right questions is often the harder and more important thing than finding the answers, which are often a pretty straightforward process after you know the questions to ask.

If philosophy can help to ask the right questions, then it can be useful even if it doesn't help you find answers that will convince everyone no matter what assumptions they have or are willing to grant.

People involved in the sciences (and believers in scientific ideals) often pride themselves as being open to questioning everything, and greatly value such openness.

First, this itself is a philosophical position, so if such a position is useful to science then philosophy is useful to science.

Second, while such openness is often claimed as an ideal, in practice it's common for people involved in the sciences (and their fans) not to be so open after all. Philosophical training can help them to be more questioning and see their own assumptions where they might be blind to them otherwise. So this too makes philosophy useful to science (or at least the ideals of science that so many aspire to).

Next, philosophy, like math, is useful for training the mind. You can become a more rigorous thinker by studying philosophy -- this I believe is one reason that people with a philosophy degree are the ones most commonly admitted to law school.

Philosophy could also expand your mind or your horizons, and let you see things from another perspective that you otherwise might have been blind to. That's been one of its most valuable uses for me.

> But is philosophy's function to find answers?

You're moving the goal posts. Why did you just say that philosophy can help us address a long list of questions if you're willing to concede that maybe philosophy isn't for answering questions at all.

OP wants answers. They want to develop a personal philosophy. They are not looking to "expand their horizons" or "question everything."

> there's also arguably no way to "objectively" tell who is right in philosophy, as what that even means or what standards we use is itself open to debate.

Then it's not going to be very useful to OP, is it? It's like using a random number generator to predict the Powerball. "One of these numbers will win. Can't say which, though."

"You're moving the goal posts. Why did you just say that philosophy can help us address a long list of questions if you're willing to concede that maybe philosophy isn't for answering questions at all."

Because I was answering people who insisted that philosophy was has to be useful. I'm not moving the goal posts so much as questioning their assumption that philosophy must have a use to be of value.

"OP wants answers"

But this sub-thread is not about the OP's wants. It's a reply to people challenging the value of philosophy.

"Then it's not going to be very useful to OP, is it?"

Again, you're assuming that philosophy has to be useful to be of value. And, again, it can be, for the reasons I stated before, but it can still be valuable even if it isn't.

You've misunderstood me if you think I'm arguing philosophy has no value. I'm only arguing that studying it will not help someone develop a personal philosophy.

> I would argue that the most important questions for most people are not scientific or mathematical questions, but philosophical ones -- such as:

> - "what should I do with my life?"

> - "what is the purpose of my life or of the world?"

> - "should I help someone in need or help myself?"

> - "what subject (including mathematical or scientific subject) should I study or work on?"

> - "who should live or die, be punished or rewarded?"

> - "how should we structure our society?"

> - "how should we as a society or as individuals spend our money?"

And yet philosophy offers no practical help to the student seeking answers to these questions today. Sure, a philosopher will happily produce a mountain of pages addressing any one of these questions, but you will be no wiser for having read them.

"Sure, a philosopher will happily produce a mountain of pages addressing any one of these questions, but you will be no wiser for having read them."

You might not be any wiser after having read them, but that doesn't mean no one is.

Here's Socrates answers:

> "what should I do with my life?"

Try to improve body and spirit. Shape and obey the rules of he society you live in, be thankful and respectful of the liberties society has produced. Obey the laws of the city above everything else. Live by them, die by them.

> "what is the purpose of my life or of the world?"

The meaning of life is to reach happiness. To do, one most attain knowledge. Knowledge is virtue.

> - "should I help someone in need or help myself?"

You should help someone in need of help, because this way you help your spirit and the society (in Socrates parlance, you help the "city/neighbourhood/etc".) Acting in a selfish way will hurt your soul.

> - "what subject (including mathematical or scientific subject) should I study or work on?"

You should study them all, do your best to gain knowledge because knowledge is virtue. Know thyself, realise you know nothing.

> - "how should we structure our society?"

See Plato's "Republic", it's pretty detailed. Of course is utopian yet many ideas could be adopted easily.

> - "how should we as a society or as individuals spend our money?"

Wisely :-)

I could make another such list for Aristotle, Spinoza or Nietzsche and they'll most likely collide. So my take is that what you're looking for is a "rulebook" to tell you that Nietzsche (or Gorgias in Plato's dialogues) is right and Socrates is wrong.

If that's what you're looking then you're out of luck, not only in philosophy which is the highest form of education IMO but in science too, as science is equally ambiguous. There's literally NOTHING out there that can definitely prove that 2+2=4.

IMO philosophy guides someone from the land of certainty to the land of uncertainty where he can make his own choices and decide what kind of person one wants/needs to be.

While we are shaped by our culture to a long extend, philosophy can help us choose the answers to these questions. Then we are able to accept the good and the bad part of our choices and live a life without remorse, second thoughts and regrets.

>OP wants to "develop a personal philosophy." So they will want to learn the state of the art of philosophy. Starting with Plato to learn philosophy is like starting with Archimedes to learn physics.

I'd suggest the opposite, do start from the Socratic dialogues if you are really interested in philosophy.

On the other hand, if you want to be a tech guy with the common tech preconceptions about philosophy, feel free to skip Plato and his ilk.

And to answer my immediate parent, first, there's no "state of the art" in philosophy. Same way there's no "state of the art" in actual art (ancient art can be as good or better as modern art, and Bach e.g. can be as good or better than a modern composer, and in any case as relevant and enjoyable).

The concept of "state of the art" exists for engineering not art (and is within an engineering/tech context where the term first appeared in the 19th century, not in an art or philosophical context).

While technology can be accumulated, philosophy is a discourse and exchange of ideas. And, like in art, the formulation matters, and more often than not the best formulation is the original (because its closer to their source, the thinker who came up with those ideas). Plus, the main questions haven't changed the last 5000 years, to make answers outdated. Smartphones or cars change messaging methods and habbits, not philosophy.

>In my opinion, the reason for this is that philosophy as a means of understanding ourselves and our world beyond what science can tell us is essentially futile.

Restricting ourselves and our understanding to "what science can tell us" is absolutely futile, like trapped in a tautology (science is a closed system explaining what is, not what should be, as by itself it has no value, morals, aesthetics, and so on. You can be a scientist and a Nazi - and many were, without anything being problematic in that scientifically as long as you perform your experiments with the scientific method. The only objections to that would be moral and thus, the realm of philosophy).

Science is a tool, we don't ask tools for their opinions or for our goals or for what to do with them. We use them to make things or to examine things, no to think about what we want to make, or to think about what is best to make. That's for philosophy.

I agree that there is no such thing as a "state of the art" in a subject such as philosophy... but you can read a lot of stuff from e.g. Plato or Aristotle that is just refuted nowadays. For example, I studied linguistics and whenever I had to read Plato about language I was reminded that he really had no idea what he was talking about.

I also personally don't like Plato (he always creates these absolute strawmen as opponents), but that's more personal. I agree though that it's valuable to read at least some of it and to see whether it speaks to you or whether you find the method of inquiry interesting.

>For example, I studied linguistics and whenever I had to read Plato about language I was reminded that he really had no idea what he was talking about.

You don't read Plato for empirical science though (or Aristotle for that matter). You read him for the philosophical ideas.

Whether language is X or Y for example is still debated, and while a modern linguist might know X research results or new theories, Plato still sets off many questions that are still dividing sides and are under debate. E.g. from a Stanford website breakdown:

"The positions of Hermogenes and Cratylus have come to be known to modern scholarship as ‘conventionalism’ and ‘naturalism’ respectively. An extreme linguistic conventionalist like Hermogenes holds that nothing but local or national convention determines which words are used to designate which objects. The same names could have been attached to quite different objects, and the same objects given quite different names, so long as the users of the language were party to the convention. Cratylus, as an extreme linguistic naturalist, holds that names cannot be arbitrarily chosen in the way that conventionalism describes or advocates, because names belong naturally to their specific objects. If you try to speak of something with any name other than its natural name, you are simply failing to refer to it at all. For example, he has told Hermogenes to the latter’s intense annoyance, Hermogenes is not actually his name".

But philosophy of language is a thing and IMHO, Plato is mostly useless there. What is described in the quoted excerpt as "naturalism" is... simply not a position that any modern linguist (at the very least since Saussure) would take, because it is plainly ridiculous and flies in the face of basically all evidence.

Generally, I don't think that philosophical ideas exist in a vacuum, they are informed by the real world and by science (hence why e.g. quantum mechanics plays such an important role). Plato bases his ideas off of specific premises (that's the whole point of the socratic dialogues), but I find the premises often very flawed. For example, how does Platonism and the idea that there is "an ideal horse" make sense in the context of evolution? It doesn't, IMHO, and cognitive science seems to give much better answers to such question as how we can recognise the concept of "horse".

But people who didn't study linguistics can still be impressed by Plato, and then quote him to impress others.

So, it's ultimately a question of why do you even want to study philosophy in first place. I suspect that for most usual purposes, Plato is perfectly okay.

>But people who didn't study linguistics can still be impressed by Plato, and then quote him to impress others.

Same way people that studied science X (including linguistics and CS), but are philosophically naive, can have a coarsed-grained view of very nuanced situations, and adhere to naive assumptions...

As an American philosopher noted, "An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing".

This is true for a scientist with expertise in whatever X.

Philosophy and epistemology (along with history and art) are ways to not be a simpleton with a narrow field of view who can't put together two coherent sentences outside their field (and doesn't even understand the second and third order implications of what he studies, its possible societal impact, its relevance and so on), but to get a wider picture.

Whch is not the same as "impressing others", except in the sense that intelligence and education do impress others sometimes...

> And, like in art, the formulation matters, and more often than not the best formulation is the original (because its closer to their source, the thinker who came up with those ideas).

This is sometimes true, but I think it depends on who you're reading. The skill of philosophizing, and of carrying on a discourse with other philosophers, is very different from the skill of bringing a novice up to speed. Not everyone who's great at one is great at the other. There's also value in what the grandparent post mentioned about establishing historical and biographical context before jumping into primary sources. It helps you understand what you're reading and what the community thinks is important about it.

That said, I definitely agree that primary sources are valuable to read, and to appreciate as works of art in their own right. Yes Wikipedia can give you the big ideas, but it's just not the same. But hitting Wikipedia first can give you context to get more out of the primary.

> The concept of "state of the art" exists for engineering not art

I don't understand this. Yes philosophy is not a linear progression of ideas, but the iterative process of people building on one another's ideas is definitely present, as it is in music or mathematics or poetry. Philosophy responds to current events, to art, to science, and to itself.

To put it another way, it's totally valid to ask "what was up with philosophy in X decade". You can look at the ideas that were floating around, how they interacted with each other, how they built on the past and led to future ideas. As I see it, that's the "state of the art". It's more a question of "what were top minds in the field working on", or maybe "what ideas were most influential", than anything else, but that's true if you ask that question of technology too.

> Smartphones or cars change messaging methods and habbits, not philosophy.

Philosophy (or philosophers) respond to what's around them. The conversation around whether the brain is a computer, for example, is very different today (and probably more interesting to most people) than it would have been 200 years ago.

But there is a state of the art to music, and it’s fair to say that classical music is dead as it’s basically a fossil now. Hence Lady Gaga.


Have a look at Adam Neely on Youtube.

> Science is a tool, we don't ask tools for their opinions or for our goals or for what to do with them. We use them to make things or to examine things, no to think about what we want to make, or to think about what is best to make. That's for philosophy.

And yet philosophy is utterly incapable of telling us what to make or do. People often come to philosophy with the hope that studying philosophy will help them live a better life or help them make sense of life. The truth is, it won't. They can devote their life to studying philosophy and they won't squeeze a single drop of utility from that parched rock.

>And yet philosophy is utterly incapable of telling us what to make or do.

Actually it is perfectly capable.

In fact, nothing has been made or done without a philosophy guiding it.

It's just that for most people this is usually a self-made, uninformed, ad-hoc (and usually bad and unfit for the purpose) philosophy, or some low-tier second hand pop philosophy.

If you mean "philosophy can't tell what X exactly everybody should make or do" that's true. But that's also true for science and everything else. We are individuals, in different situations, different problems, and different goals.

Philosophy teaches us how to think about our problems, goals, etc, and how to put them in perspective, value them, examine them, etc.

It doesn't hand them out to us. Philosophy is not an oracle telling you what to do and absolving you from thinking (and that's true whether some philosophers treated theirs as such or not).

In its totality, philosophy is the exact opposite, a set of prior observations, discussions, hypotheses, thinking tools and approaches, to make you think better and to give you the benefit of the insight of others.

You get that insight on technical matters from science.

You get that insight on meta-matters (thinking about thinking, morals, etc) from philosophy.

I don't think that there's a universal truth about what you should be making or doing. It's up to each person to decide that for themselves. Philosophy exposes you to different ideas and ways of thinking, showing that there isn't a single correct answer to the questions people have in life. What you make of that is up to the person on the receiving end of those ideas.

I basically agree with this. My suggestion to OP would be to take this comment to heart. If they are looking to develop a personal philosophy, any amount of study of formal philosophy will not get them further than this.

"philosophy is utterly incapable of telling us what to make or do"

Take a look at the enormous popularity of Stoicism on HN. I think quite a few people here would disagree with you about philosophy being "utterly incapable of telling us what to make or do".

And yet most philosophers aren't Stoics. Physics will tell you how fast an object will fall. You can ask a dozen physicists and they will all give you the same answer. Philosophy only tells you how to live if you ask exactly one philosopher. Ask a second, and you will be no better off than when you started.

"And yet most philosophers aren't Stoics"

You're moving the goal posts.

First you said:

"philosophy is utterly incapable of telling us what to make or do"

I gave you an example how philosophy is in fact capable of doing that, and it does so for many people (philosophers and non-philosophers alike).

Instead of granting the point, you move the goal posts.

Suddenly, philosophy being capable of telling us what to make or do is no longer good enough for you. Now you want answers to satisfy "most philosophers".

"You can ask a dozen physicists and they will all give you the same answer. Philosophy only tells you how to live if you ask exactly one philosopher. Ask a second, and you will be no better off than when you started."

Philosophy is not physics. There is no consensus on many of the problems that concern it.

Philosophy, by the way, is far from the only academic discipline that lacks such a consensus.

Harry Truman said "If you laid every economist in the country end to end, they would all point in different directions."

There are also many disagreements on fundamental issues in psychology, and probably many if not most other "soft sciences".

But philosophy is not a science, so why are you holding it up to scientific standards?

Art and music aren't sciences either, but most people recognize they have tremendous value anyway.

By the way, I've noticed that you're laser-focused on this consensus issue, while completely being unable to acknowledge that philosophy has value apart from the issue of whether it gives you answers that everyone can agree on.

How about philosophy's value in training the mind?

Please answer if you find that valuable.

How about philosophy's value in letting people question their own assumptions?

Do you find that valuable?

Or philosophy's value in letting you see things from a different perspective?

Can you specifically address these points instead of endlessly returning to the one point of philosophy not having answers that everyone can agree on?

You've misunderstood me if you think I'm arguing philosophy has no value. I'm only arguing that studying it will not help someone develop a personal philosophy.

I will make this one concession on reflection. It may help immunize one from simplistic explanations and just-so stories. It will not give one truth, but perhaps it will reveal the lie. The study of philosophy is a great way, for example, to disabuse someone of religious faith.

The point of philosophy is to teach you how to think so you can formulate your own answer. Apparently you expect everything to be 1+1=2, which really is kind of sad.

You are a person who desperately needs philosophy, yet you seen incapable of understanding why you would need it. Science seems to have ruined you.

> The point of philosophy is to teach you how to think so you can formulate your own answer.

This canard has been raised several times in this thread. Yes, who will teach the physicists how to think? Who will teach the engineers how to put two and two together?

> Apparently you expect everything to be 1+1=2, which really is kind of sad.

If by this you mean I reject irrational thought, then yes, guilty as charged. This has nothing to do with my views on philosophy, though. Philosophy is a type of rational inquiry.

> Science seems to have ruined you.

Or perhaps math has ruined me, expecting everything to be 1+1=2? But isn't math an extension of logic, and logic a part of philosophy? Maybe philosophy has ruined me.

> Science seems to have ruined you.

This is a very interesting thought. Is this something you came up with, or are you quoting any specific philosopher? I’d love to read more about this topic.

It's basically the idea of "scientism".

Scientistm being to science what nationalism is to patriotism.


To give a more direct answer, the Harvard Justice course which is famous and you can watch it all here: http://justiceharvard.org/

So a lot of philosophical writing references a sort of general canon, at least as far as western thinking is concerned. Other traditions I'm sure have their own details but I can't speak intelligently to them. The field is enormous, and without more specific information regarding your goals it is difficult to pinpoint the classics in subfields that may interest you. That said, there are a few highlights I think you're bound to come across reference or allusion to in many, many other works that would benefit you to get some exposure to. I am strongly biased toward a western analytical philosophy tradition--you'll want to check into things far more broadly than I'm recommending to find your own path. My little list is not meant to be exhaustive and is coming from personal memory of "aha!" moments in my own life, but will perhaps serve as a useful beach head for your own investigations:

* Descartes' Meditations

* Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding

* Hobbes Leviathan

* Kant Critique of Pure Reason

* Kant Prolegomena

* Kuhn Structure of Scientific Revolution

* Hegel Phenomenology of Spirit

* Foucault Discipline & Punish

* Sellars Epistemology and the Philosophy of Mind

* Sellars The Scientific Image of Man

* Quine Word & Object

* Davidson On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

* Nagel What is it like to be a bat?

* Searle Minds, Brains, and Programs

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [0] has a ton of great summary articles and bibliographies that could definitely keep you busy for a few decades or so. I've never been tremendously into ancient or non-western philosophy, which is a deficiency I aim to correct one day, but there are a ton of great essays there as well.

[0] https://plato.stanford.edu/

I'd add Heidegger's Being and Time to that list, and Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra or The Gay Science to that list.

These are are probably the most significant works of Continental philosophy, and should definitely take precedence of Foucault, who's really the only representative of Continental philosophy (with the exception of maybe Hegel) on your list.

It should also be made clear that plato.standford.edu is a highly biased site that mostly depicts philosophy from an Analytic perspective, where Continental thought is barely represented (or misrepresented).

NOTE: As I tried to make clear in a later post in this thread, I'm not recommending Heidegger or Nietzsche for a beginner. I just think their works belong on the list of the person I replied to more than do a lot of the other people he lists (many of whom, by the way, also aren't good for beginners to start with).

Yet again, recommending abstruse works. Being and Time is absurdly difficult for even Philosophy Ph.Ds to parse. Worse yet, Phenomenology is kinda like metaphysics in that many people in the field don't believe that it's even truly legitimate. Heidegger had to go and claim that his biggest fans (Sartre) actually compleatly misunderstood him entirely. If Sartre can't get it right, can a random newcomer understand it the way Heidegger intended?

As far as Nietzsche goes - by his own words (he is very clear about this in one of his books - I think it was ecco homo) - you're supposed to have read ALL of the works of Kant and then Schopenhauer before you can even understand Nietzsche. Not that many people agree with him about that, but it did color my perception of him (and the study of the two that he asks the readers to look into does a massive amount to explain why Nietzsche sounds like such an edgelord)...

"If Sartre can't get it right, can a random newcomer understand it the way Heidegger intended?"

They're not going to understand Hegel either, and probably not Kant, or a bunch of other philosophers on that list.

But Heidegger and Nietzsche were undeniably hugely influential on philosophy, so they belong on that list as much or more than many of the other people listed, who were of minor significance, at best.

Ecce Homo was written shortly before Nietzsche went insane, with chapter titles like "Why I am So Wise", "Why I am So Clever", and "Why I Write Such Excellent Books". I wouldn't take what he wrote there at face value.. and much of what he writes in other places should be taken with a grain of salt also, as he often wrote with tongue firmly in cheek, and it's often difficult to nail down exactly what Nietzsche thought or intended.

This is one of the reasons he's been so influential on modern Continental philosophy, some of which took on wholeheartedly his spirit of play and irony, which most of philosophy before Nietzsche was missing.

That's not to say that Nietzsche can't be serious.. much of his work is serious, but it's written in an aphoristic rather than a systematic way, which makes understanding what he's saying a lot more difficult than, say, many Analytic thinkers, who prize being clear and straightforward.

So, yeah, Nietzsche's not great for beginners either, and he's famous for being misinterpreted anyway, even by professional philosophers. But he's still highly significant, and for my money far more profound than all the Analytics put together.

Absolutely agree.

And sticking with western philosophy, if you are suggesting Hegel and Nietzsche. I would also bring you into the (late) twentieth century with Deleuze & Guattari. But I also wouldn't recommend them to a beginner.

I also think as a start, knowing these figures, perhaps even tasting their work, lets you read around them. You see the way their ideas spread out into the world. I sometimes think there are more different takes on Nietzsche's work than ideas in them!

You can also read back and trace a line of thought through various philosophers from say, Deleuze back through Bergson, Nietzsche, Kant, Spinoza, Liebniz, all the way back to the Stoics. To understand Dennett, you need see the impact Descartes has on modern thought, and you can trace that kind of thinking back through to the Socratics. You start to see that these philosophical threads actually shape people's entire view of the world around them, and in some way the world itself.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting Hegel and Nietzsche, but Heidegger and Nietzsche.

Hegel, however, was clearly influential, so he shouldn't be left out of a list of influential philosophers. I'm just personally not a fan of his at all, and were it not for his significance I would skip him.

Yes, quite! I meant to say, Hegel and Kant or Heidegger and Nietzsche. Agree about Hegel too, theres a lot of philosophers works I would recommend to give a miss and just read a synopsis. Hegel is in that list, Kant is not.

I think you mean abstruse or obscure, not obtuse. Obtuse means stupid.

+1 for Stanford Encyclopedia. Such a uniquely and consistently excellent resource. Can't think of many things like it for other subjects.


This is a great list.

Why no Greeks? Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics at least!

I would add Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism” as a short and readable intro to existentialism, followed by kierkegaard’s Being and Nothingness and Nietzche…maybe The Gay Science? (I am biased towards existentialism)


I’m sure to get carried away, but some utilitarians would be good. Bertrand Russell is quite readable. His essays on Happiness are quick and impactful. John Stuart Mill, too, is a marvel of rationality (and progressivism (not on everything)) and sometimes prophetic. There’s value, I think, especially for those in tech to see the limits of rationality.

Spicy hot take, I think Ayn Rand is great for this. She takes hyper rational philosophy as far as it can go. It ends up being absurd precisely because it is so divorced from the irrational sides of humans. She’s fascinating, in my opinion. Understanding why she’s both revered in some parts of society and a bit of a meme in “serious” philosophy is a valuable exercise.

I found Plato (and what he relates of Socrates) transparently self serving. Like a consultant who’s recommendations always involve more consulting work.

For existentialism/absurdism, you should probably include The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

Absolutely. Great addition.

(To this day, I feel like maybe one might…not imagine Sisyphus to be happy? But Camus getting there is valuable. And maybe he’s right!)

BTW - Sartre goes on later in life to claim that Marxism and Existentialism are basically identical, or rather that Marxism is the sociological analog to Existentialism in his work "Search for a Method". This is not very well known among anyone except the Sartre hacks, but is important to mention. Same with Camus and his early relationship with leftist politics.

Source if you don't believe me (see conclusion and checkout a full copy for further context): https://www.bard.edu/library/arendt/pdfs/Sartre-Search.pdf

This pdf source is missing the first chapter, "Marxism and Existentialism".

Here's another source in html: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/crit...

Perhaps Montaigne's Complete Essays as well (In the translation of M A Screech), since he lucidly summarizes most of what developed till his time, and also analysed and explained in very clear and understandable manner how it all affected his manner of living his own life.

Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is a great introduction to Stoicism

I'm personally much more a fan of Seneca. I find his On the Shortness of Life and many of his Moral Letters to be far more eloquent, readable, and profound than Marcus Aurelius or any other stoic.

Overall these are good recommendations. For instance Sellars is hard but extremely important. His disciple Brandom is comparatively more readable and worth investigating as well.

You can safely ignore hegel as I am afraid that if you don't ignore hegel you may think philosophy is useless after you get through 20 pages of any of his works.

Kant may also be a stretch for someone whose new - even the "idiots guide" versions of his works that he wrote because his other works were criticized in his own time for being hard to read

The rest listed here are good - but IMHO you should always start with plato/socrates. I'd throw in Timaeus and the sophist and maybe even parts of republic (at least the chapter involving allegory of cave and allegory of divided line) to this list

Hegel is useful to read if only because he had a meaningful impact on others (whether inspiration/building upon him or, at the very least, reacting to him.) But I could be convinced that spending an hour wrapping one’s mind around the Hegelian Dialectic is enough of an 80/20.

Similar with Kant. Bang your head against the categorical imperative at least. It’s a concept to be familiar with. I agree that a deep read of Kant is too far down the rabbit hole to start with.

For Hegel I’d just say read a short modern secondary source that summarizes the main ideas and traces their influence on subsequent thinkers. Honestly the main point of knowing about Hegel anyway is because he deeply influenced Marx, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and many other philosophers that you might actually want to read and apply to your life and worldview. Peter Singer’s Hegel: A Very Short Introduction is short, clear, and has all the information you’d need (https://www.amazon.com/Hegel-Short-Introduction-Peter-Singer...).

I majored in philosophy and I think one of the biggest missteps in how I approached my degree was what I thought I would get out of learning philosophy.

I thought I'd learn about "truth" from my degree, and I was initially very disgruntled when learning about very incomplete philosophies. I learned eventually that the goal of a philosophy degree was not to find "truth", but to learn about the myriad arguments and models people had for "truth", and how to critique and understand truth.

If you're on your journey to developing your personal philosophy, then a basic understanding of philosophy will help you escape pitfalls and traps a lot of annoying armchair philosophizers fall into. A lot of people read a single philosopher and think they understand everything.

What is your goal for developing your personal philosophy? It might be faster and more meaningful for most people to start with theology/spirituality, books on justice (Rawls, Nozick, feminist literature), or carefully selected business books than to start from the basics because that road is long and full of fallacies.

I think it's very important that for every philosophy you learn about, learn the critiques of those arguments. You kan't learn about all the great critiques of Kant from reading Kant. This is where professors and peers are really useful with discussions to tease out nuances of particular arguments and models.

My personal favorite philosopher is Iris Marion Young. I think her work on intersecting democracy and feminism is wonderful.

That is a funny thing about young people. A lot of the time they want to find a silver bullet in area that they are interested in. It is not bad of course because maybe they can.

People would like to have nice simple answer for life, universe and everything. This seems like a likely trap for "developing personal philosophy". Where one is building up his perfect system and then things happen in life and it falls apart.

In my opinion best what one can take out of learning philosophy is understanding of other non philosophic works. Reading author that has nothing to do with pure philosophy and finding out patterns and themes that were already worked out by philosophers but have slightly different sprint.

> That is a funny thing about young people. A lot of the time they want to find a silver bullet in area that they are interested in. It is not bad of course because maybe they can.

I agree with this; once upon a time, I used to be one of those young people. And I think, this unsubstantiated confidence is a good thing for young people. That was an important source of motivation for me when I was jumping into waters that were way deeper than I envisioned. If I knew "better" I would never do that. But I'm glad I did it. I did not discover a new continent, no, but if I did not have that courage (the courage coming from "ignorance", if you will) I would not have learned what I have learned along the way. I am no longer that courageous young man, but I'm mostly happy he did what he did.

I recommend the Philosophise This podcast[0]. It has a lot of episodes on the classic philosophers but it also delves into some of the contemporary philosophers that I find very interesting. I lot of other philosophical discussions seem to act like philsophy stopped around Russell and Wittgenstein.


Speaking of podcasts, I can heartily recommend The Partially Examined Life[1], which has been by far the best philosophy podcast I've ever heard (especially their earlier episodes.. not as much a fan of their more recent ones).

[1] - https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/

I love philosophize this. Stephen West, the host, has a really interesting story too. Man was just bagging groceries and sick of his life, and that's how he got into philosophy.

changed my life

I also recommend this podcast. I've listened to the whole thing a couple of times and it gives a descent overview (I think) which makes it easier to dive deeper into the concepts and philosophers that interests you. For me it was Descartes, Kant, Spinoza and Deluze.

Recommend. Many can sneer at a podcaster trying to tackle philosophy, but he does it well enough to get you interested in seeking the original theory. That’s what he does best. I love his podcast.

I also love this podcast.

A long time ago someone recommended to me a small Norwegian book called Sophies World [0] as a very basic introduction to the history of philosophy and its served well.

It was written by a teacher and geared at young adults. So its not a rigorous introduction. But its a short read and by the end you'll have enough leads to follow.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie%27s_World

I'd also recommend Sophie's World as a jumping off point into multiple "canon" works as referend by another poster.

I'm sure people out there criticize it as not rigorous or full of inaccuracies, but I've found it an easy read that gives a good overview into the works of western philosophy.

I’ve seen many syllabi that include this book. I haven’t read it myself but have met some smart/thoughtful students of philosophy who did and value it highly.

Just make sure you get the correct book. I put in a request with my library and accidentally got this:


I'm sure it's charming, but not what I was after. You want the one by Jostein Gaarder.

For an introductory overview, you could do much worse that Sophie's world.

This is actually what I came here to say! It is great book that I have given to many people. I also recommend Anathem, by Neal Stephenson which is a romp of a novel shot through with philosophy.

Got this as a gift from my teacher at the end of my last year in primary school, still one of the greatest gifts I've ever received

Count another vote for Sophie's World as a breezy introduction. Call it the root node of your tree search.

If you want to learn about philosophy, I highly recommend Russel's History of Western Philosophy. It's usually frowned upon and recommended to avoid for Philosophy students exactly for the same reasons I think it's one of the best books ever written:

It doesn't shy away of critique and dispute, as it was written by a practicing philosopher (who still values objectivity and holds to high standards of reasoning). The language is wonderful and historical bits to set the context are great.

I also recommend Anthony Gottlieb's "The Dream Of Reason" and "The Dream of Enlightenment", as the second and third book (if you liked the first one). They are more recent and sometimes expand on some things Russel deemed of lesser importance. Again, exceptionally well written.

I'm going to be the lone naysayer here, and recommend against Russell's book.

Russell is an eloquent, entertaining, and engaging writer. I used to be a huge Russell fan myself when I was young, and back then I would have recommended his book too.

But then I actually studied philosophy and realized how myopic, limited, and biased Russell was outside his areas of specialty (Analytic philosophy, math, and logic).

Yes, you'd get an overview of (some of) Western philosophy from his book, but it'd be really biased, and that's the wrong foot to start you learning of philosophy from.

Much better, in my view, to just start reading the Socratic dialogues yourself, as part of an intro to philosophy class, instead of being fed regurgitated, abridged, predigested knowledge by someone with an agenda.

My view on Russell extends to many of the other recommendations elsewhere in this thread of books by other authors who've written overviews of philosophy from an Analytic perspective. They might have more up-to-date views than Russell did (who was born in 1872 and wrote his book in 1946), but they tend to share his limitations.

Not the lone naysayer! I’m still a huge Russell fan, but my advice on his History of Western Philosophy is avoid like the plague until you know enough to read it with a very critical eye.

I think the real danger is that he’s such a pleasant, engaging, clear, logically compelling writer. And especially so to folks of a mathematical, analytical bent - like probably most HN readers. And then you remember that this book was written by an Englishman in 1946. You know, right after the worst war in the history of the world, in which Germany was the central antagonist. Of course he’s going to totally misinterpret Hegel, Nietzsche, and a whole bunch of other thinkers.

I'm still a huge Russell fan myself, but more for his political activism and style of popular writing than for his philosophy.

I've found his actual philosophical writing pretty impenetrable. Have you ever read On Denoting? For me that was every bit as hard to understand as the most difficult of Continental writings.

> It's usually frowned upon and recommended to avoid for Philosophy students exactly for the same reasons I think it's one of the best books ever written:

> It doesn't shy away of critique and dispute

This is nonsense. wittgenstein and nietzsche are highly regarded within philosophy departments, and they both criticize philosophy to the point of turning their backs on philosophy. russell is just not a very careful scholar of history, philosophy, or the history of philosophy.

This is nonsense. Wittgenstein and Nietzsche didn't write anything that could be mistaken for a textbook you could learn your HoP 101 with.

What you say about factual shortcoming is just one of the reasons, not the main one by any means, at least from my experience.

Then what's your point? actual undergrad philosophy textbooks don't "shy away of critique and dispute" either. is your complaint that russell's idiosyncratic views are not foregrounded enough to your liking?

Russell's History of Western Philosophy is a terrific book. It's quite long, but for good reason.

While I do second the recommendation, I wouldn't make that your first introduction to the subject, unless you already know you are interested and committed. Most people really enjoy some aspect and finding that aspect at a high level is important IMHO. If you dive too deep on non-interesting topics, you may get bored of the whole thing.

If you're interested in my advice for getting started, I detailed it here a few years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16936240

I've done a lot of learning about philosophy and the book that keeps coming up, from people that I highly respect, is Russell's book, check out the wiki on it [1].

Regardless, based on summaries that I've read, I wish I started with this book since it gives a solid understanding of western philosophy.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Western_Philosoph...

Reading this book is like reading Gibbon as a first book about Roman history. Please don’t do it.

If you want a better history of western philosophy, I would recommend Anthony Kenny’s A New History of Western Philosophy.

Philosophy is a huge field, and you first need to figure out what part of philosophy you're interested in.

Moral and political philosophy is one area of philosophy -- Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, etc. That's more practical, and associated with probably the majority of the "names" you've heard of.

But then there's philosophy around deeper things like how we know things, what knowledge is, debates over free will, etc. Epistemology, metaphysics, etc.

Those two areas of philosophy have virtually nothing to do with each other.

Then you talk about "mental models" which isn't philosophy at all -- that's psychology.

And when you talk about developing a "personal philosophy" I don't know what that means -- it sounds more like religion or spirituality perhaps?

But honestly I'd start with Wikipedia. Just start with the "Philosophy" article and start following links until you find the stuff that seems to resonate. (Also look up the article for "Mental Model", and especially check out all the "See also" links at the bottom.)

Wikipedia great for some subjects, but is simply awful for philosophy. I'd stay far, far away from it.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is pretty fantastic. They have a lot of articles summarizing debates as well, which I find very useful. Example: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/

It's good for Analytic philosophy, but not for Continental philosophy.

Is Wikipedia great for learning philosophy? Of course not, no better than it would be for learning math or physics.

But it's unsurpassed for learning what all the kinds of philosophy are, for getting a sense of all the stuff that's out there.

Simply because any "philosophy" intro text you buy, no matter how broad, will ignore huge swathes of it. Wikipedia really is the best place to get an initial "lay of the land" I'd say.

From there you can move onto survey texts in a particular subfield you've identified, then drill even deeper into Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy articles, and then make your way to primary texts.

It's really not. If you value learning at all stay away from wikipedia. It's garbage.

Could you eludicate? What precisely is "garbage" about:


I really can't think of a better or more complete way to get a quick wide-ranging overview.

This is apparently an unpopular opinion, but READ THE PRIMARY SOURCES.

"There is a strange idea that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire." -C.S. Lewis

I attend the best "Great Books" program in the country, the Torrey Honors College. Here are the strictly philosophy texts they had us start off with the first semester: Plato's Meno, Symposium, and Republic, and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. You can find the full reading list here: https://www.biola.edu/torrey/academics/reading-list

If you want to dig in more, I would encourage you to look into the "Great Books of the Western World" set compiled by Mortimer Adler. There is an accompanying curriculum that walks you through reading them without a teacher or classroom [https://www.thegreatideas.org/tgi-program.html]. You can typically find them on eBay for relatively cheap.

At some point you should get to the original sources if you want to be an academic, yes.

But the reality is that 99% of the original source material is not relevant, will not be particularly rewarding, and may require a grad-level background to even understand many of the sentences. You want to read Hobbes Leviathan? Guess what, the only parts that matter today are a handful of pages. Same with Kant's Groundwork, Aristotle's Politics, etc.

The famous philosophers are (mostly) famous for their essential ideas, not the full lengths of their books.

For example: the majority of Hobbes' Leviathan is coming up with an entire theory of natural law, dealing with religion, etc. But none of that stuff was particularly noteworthy. The part that's relevant today was his original thoughts on the social contract, which is a very short part.

It's far more important to read textbooks, surveys, etc. to understand the ideas and be able to put each philosopher in context of who they were responding to and who responded to them.

Then if you're an academic or going to write a paper or something, sure go to the actual sources.

I say this having read tons of Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Kant, Locke, Rawls, etc. I've needed to for my work, but I would never recommend reading them to someone just casually interested in philosophy. That's like telling someone who wants to learn how to program that they should be reading the C compiler source code.

At the same time these primary works are the main examples of philosophy actually being done.

Any summary material can only speak to the results of philosophy, while the primary sources when closely analyzed (like source code!) yield the process. Which will be more helpful if one wants to develop a "personal philosophy"? Working out the chains of reasoning or picking-and-choosing from a menu?

I honestly can't agree at all.

The primary works often just blatantly "state" things as if they were opinions. Then it's up to generates of scholars afterwards to argue about what the actual process of logical argument was.

Historical philosophy books aren't mathematical proofs. They don't necessary demonstrate process at all, it's not philosophy being "done" but just stated. Very often, it's precisely the summary works that situate the thinkers in a context that illuminates the process that led to their conclusions.

Also I don't know what you mean about "developing a personal philosophy"... I'm talking about academic philosophy here.

The goal of the OP was stated at the bottom of the post as developing a personal philosophy. You can take it up with them, but I interpreted it as coming up with a reasoned worldview for oneself through contemplating existing philosophies.

I actually agree that philosophical works are not mathematical proofs. But thought processes do not close over logic, they close over natural language. The point of reading primary texts is to interpret the text, to reverse out the thought process of what is being said through close reading and exposing hidden assumptions (i.e. hermeneutics). This isn't a strictly logical process, but it's common to all natural-language argumentation, including philosophy and law.

With that in mind, if Kant, Aristotle, Seneca and Rawls count as primary works – then what you're saying is false. They didn't state things in a vacuum; they all developed their views in a context, some of it from some base observations, much of it responding to interpretations of other points of view.

You have a point in that primary sources are not sufficient on their own, and scholars use their experience and erudition to understand these observations and fill in the context, particularly when the writing is otherwise more sparse. But neither would introductory texts be sufficient since they hide a lot of the tacit knowledge that could allow one to reason the way the author of a text reasoned when they produced their philosophical viewpoint.

Original sources are paramount to any real sense of understanding. In my opinion the best approach is reading primary and secondary material in tandem. Understanding ideas is important obviously. But there’s also something to be said about the experience of navigating a difficult text and beginning to grok it, and the process itself is rewarding and worthwhile.

That said if the person asking this question has no interest in being an academic, your advice is horrible. Imagine reading about Plato but never reading a dialogue, never getting a sense of being in a room with Socrates. Imagine reading about the death of God but not a single sentence of Nietzsche’s maddeningly beautiful prose. You need to engage with real philosophy.

This sounds like good advice in theory, but if someone isn't even at the stage of knowing what they want to read, I don't think picking a significant book at face value is going to work out well. In fact, I bet it would probably end with a large majority of people reading the first 10 pages of Plato/Socrates/etc., getting confused by the utter lack of context, and giving up. That's what I did the first couple times I "tried to get into philosophy." It took me getting to undergrad philosophy classes to really "get it."

At the very least, if you're going to go for primary sources, find a guide or lecture to lead you through it. Of course primary sources are important to read in philosophy, but in my personal opinion, I would recommend going for an introductory text first and picking primary sources to read from there.

I read Plato's Republic in three weeks at 14.

It was a lot more interesting than anything else at school because it actually talked to you instead of talking at you. If you're going to start anywhere you might as well start there because ethics is an area everyone can understand and the republic is written in a way that anyone with a working brain can appreciate.

It's an unpopular opinion depending on what you're recommending.

Telling someone "read the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle" will lead someone to just pick up any copy of the Nicomachean Ethics. There are a lot of translations of the Nicomachean Ethics and they are not all equal. They range from very good translations, to idiosyncratic readings of the text, to flat out bad translations.

Beyond poor translations, the ancients that you've recommended are good to start with and the recommendation to read the primary sources of them is just fine. Those texts are easy to digest without having a formal background in philosophy.

But for other philosophers (e.g. Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hegel), telling someone to just "pick up one of their primary texts" is a disaster. It will either (a.) be complete gibberish to the reader without any context and they may just give up, or worse, (b.) they think they'll understand something without the proper context and spew nonsense in regards to that philosopher (this is why there are so many bad readings of Nietzsche).

So depending on what you're recommending, primary sources can be good, but in my experience, primary sources aren't good most of the time. Moreover, if someone is interested in a specific field like the OP is, then having a good secondary source can be extremely helpful to give someone an overview and proper understanding of the topic.

"for other philosophers (e.g. Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hegel), telling someone to just "pick up one of their primary texts" is a disaster. It will either (a.) be complete gibberish to the reader without any context and they may just give up, or worse, (b.) they think they'll understand something without the proper context and spew nonsense in regards to that philosopher (this is why there are so many bad readings of Nietzsche)."

This is why you'll want to read those primary sources as part of a class, instead of just trying to go it alone.

But even that won't save you from "bad readings" of Nietzsche or any other philosopher, as plenty of experts disagree on what he meant. He, like some other philosophers, just wrote in a way that doesn't have one obvious meaning that everyone can agree on. With experience and study, you can make up your own mind, which will be better than swallowing some other person's pre-digested interpretation of him.

You might have an easier time understanding a secondary source's interpretation of Nietzsche, but that doesn't mean that you understand Nietzsche.

My post was mainly in regards to the recommendation of having someone just pick up a primary source and just start reading it. But I agree that, if you're taking a class and you have someone who can go through the text with you, then that's the best option instead of trying to go it alone. But that's different from just sending someone straight to the primary source alone.

And of course there are many interpretations of Nietzsche and there's reasonable disagreement on what he said. You're right that a secondary source or taking a class doesn't "save you from bad readings" of him, but it's still better than trying to go it alone.

There are many flat out wrong interpretations of him, and someone like a professor or a secondary source can definitely help avoid common misunderstandings and pitfalls when trying to read him.

"There are many flat out wrong interpretations of him, and someone like a professor or a secondary source can definitely help avoid common misunderstandings and pitfalls when trying to read him."

That really depends on who you read. If you read only a secondary source instead of the primary source, and that secondary source happens to have misinterpreted the primary, you're going to be misled.

If you read the primary source you're at least going to have the chance to make up your own mind, even if it's difficult to do so... and even if you can't, you might at least see that what the primary source actually says might not be as straightforward and obvious as the secondary source maintains.

But please don't think I'm against secondary sources altogether. They can be a useful adjunct to reading the primary sources. Ideally, though, you'd have multiple secondary sources (ones that disagree with one another), so you don't fall in to some one person's reality tunnel.

This is especially important in philosophy. I can't count the number of times I've read secondary sources which I consider to have completely misunderstood the primary sources they were commenting on, and how frequently secondary sources disagree with one another (especially on the more "difficult" philosophers).

I would agree that reading the primary sources is important, but it must be accompanied by some form of commentary, especially when beginning (whether this is in the form of a teacher/professor, books or another form I think is less relevant). A lot of philosophical texts are incredibly dense and challenging to understand. In many cases, without context about what is being discussed or responded to, the points won't necessarily be understood.

AC Grayling edited a pair of introductory volumes on philosophy, aptly titled Philosophy I and Philosophy II. They are meant as a guide to the subject from a modern, Analytic perspective. Each volume contains extended, self-contained, essays on philosophic subtopics and history.

Why AC Grayling's Philosophy I & II instead of the Stanford Encyclopedia: It is 2 volumes, so much, much shorter. I have no idea how long the SEP is in print, but I imagine somewhere near an order of magnitude longer, maybe two orders of magnitude. It is meant to be useful for philosophy grad students and professors. You asked for an introduction.

Why AC Grayling's Philosophy I & II instead of his History of Philosophy. Actually, they are pretty similar. The History is a single volume, so it has the advantage of brevity. But it is more idiosyncratic and Grayling is more out of his depth. Russell's History of Philosophy is worse still in this regard. Scott Soames has a history entitled The World Philosophy Made, which is even more Analytic in outlook.

Why not primary sources: Why not? It is how I went along in the subject. Just start with Plato. Apology (who is this Socrates character anyway?) -> Meno (What is knowledge anyway?) -> Republic (is it better to do injustice or be injusticed?). That will be enough to start. There are plenty of other good suggestions here.

Why not an introduction to Continental philosophy: Actually, I can recommend one. Robert Pippin's Modernism as a Philosophical Problem.

(My credentials. I was a philosophy major at the University of Chicago, which is an Analytic program, where I tried to pursue Continental philosophy, and I have a master's from The New School, which is a Continental program, where I tried to pursue Analytic philosophy.)

"My credentials. I was a philosophy major at the University of Chicago, which is an Analytic program, where I tried to pursue Continental philosophy, and I have a master's from The New School, which is a Continental program, where I tried to pursue Analytic philosophy."

Why did you try to learn Continental philosophy in an Analytic program, and Analytic philosophy at a Continental program?

That sounds like a sure fire way to get the worst of both worlds.

It's actually in vogue. Continentals attempt to internalize Analytic tropes like mathematical formalism to give more precision to their concepts and speculations. Analytics are wrestling with problems posed by Contintentals like postmodernism, resulting in new and productive avenues of research (particularly in social epistemology).

It's best to start with epistemology, epistemology is the foundation for all works in philosophy, which an understanding of is necessary for not only a good rigor but to know what is possible to know, so you don't your waste time.

Like others I recommend going through Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates--they are valuable in themselves but it will further allow you to see the motivation for the later works I'm going to recommend.

In the same way, Descartes is necessary, at least a general idea of his works. Read a bit about the exchanges between Hume and Berkeley to finally reach Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Not only is the Critique a cornerstone of all philosophy but it shows you how philosophy should be conducted--carefully, rigorously, and by finding the limits of the scope of a subject so it may be necessarily true knowledge; this is what 'Critique' traditionally means, the limit of the scope.

That being said my interest in formal philosophy (I've always been interested in epistemology) at all came from "The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer. I ended up disagreeing with the argument Singer advocates for but he provides both the argument and the counter-argument. With the fairness being so remarkable, the book remains invaluable in one's philosophical journey, and at the very least a great introduction to the philosophy of morals/ethics

> It's best to start with epistemology, epistemology is the foundation for all works in philosophy, which an understanding of is necessary for not only a good rigor but to know what is possible to know, so you don't your waste time.

I could not disagree more with this position. This is a common view in philosophy Descartes onward, but it is untenable because to know what can be known presumes knowing what is to be known first. Similar attitudes exist with respect to methodology. Method always follows knowledge of the real. Otherwise, how could you know which method to use? Before you decide to use a hammer, you must first know you have a nail and a couple of planks to assemble. The style of philosophizing that Descartes initiated is ultimately the death knell of philosophy and frankly all knowledge.

Epistemology is always done reflexively. We can only examine what knowledge is after we've come to know something. Metaphysics is really the best place to start and on which everything else depends.

> We can only examine what knowledge is after we've come to know something

This is an unhelpful nebulous statement, at its worst a circular definition and victim to the Münchhausen trilemma.

> untenable because to know what can be known presumes knowing what is to be known first

Not at all, I suggest to read Critique of Pure Reason. It is never about what is to be known, but really how one can know and in what way is one able to know. I meant "what is possible to know" in a metaphysical sense rather than a specific object of the apperception.

I'll also note that epistemology was well established by Western philosophy long before Descartes.

> This is an unhelpful nebulous statement, at its worst a circular definition and victim to the Münchhausen trilemma.

It is most certainly not circular. We are knowing agents first and know things spontaneously. Only on reflection do we begin to ask what knowledge is, what the limits of rational inquiry are, etc. But to be able to reflect on something, there must first be something to reflect on. Thus, we must know something before we can begin to consider epistemological questions or even have those questions in the first place. Methodic doubt always leads to incoherent conclusions because it is ultimately irrational.

> Not at all, I suggest to read Critique of Pure Reason.

I am not surprised by this recommendation given what you said. The Kantian position is extremely problematic and your appeal to it explains your reaction.

> I'll also note that epistemology was well established by Western philosophy long before Descartes.

This was never my claim. I only claimed that epistemology is not an ideal starting point. Obviously, epistemology predates Descartes. Modern philosophy onward (that is to say, beginning with Descartes, traditionally, anyway) shifts its concerns away from metaphysics to epistemology. Thus, epistemology supplants metaphysics as what one might call the primary concern of philosophical inquiry.

> This was never my claim. I only claimed that epistemology is not an ideal starting point. Obviously, epistemology predates Descartes. Modern philosophy onward (that is to say, beginning with Descartes, traditionally, anyway) shifts its concerns away from metaphysics to epistemology. Thus, epistemology supplants metaphysics as what one might call the primary concern of philosophical inquiry.

Critique of Pure Reason is exactly about metaphysics albeit as a critique. Modern philosophy at least in the transcendental aesthetic doesn't supplant metaphysics.

> I am not surprised by this recommendation given what you said. The Kantian position is extremely problematic and your appeal to it explains your reaction.

It’s trivial to criticize anything you’re not familiar with but that’s certainly not the way good philosophy is done.

Your hypothesis on knowing presumes that we have knowledge at all and that rationality leads to truth. Secondly, it’s nebulous because “to know” is, given the parsimony of the statement. Your argument only seems logical by the ambiguity of those concepts, “know” and “knowledge”.

Thirdly, these knowing agents are often victims to fallacies, delusions, and severe hallucinations—this strong naive realism has issues noted by even the early Greeks.

> Your hypothesis on knowing presumes that we have knowledge at all and that rationality leads to truth.

So your plan is to rely on some extra-rational means of developing this epistemology? That's quite a feat. Though I shudder to ask: how would you know your method leads to the truth?

> Thirdly, these knowing agents are often victims to fallacies, delusions, and severe hallucinations

How would you know? Wouldn't you need to have apprehended a truth by which you could judge something to be a hallucination?

I'll add that Critique of Pure Reason is saving metaphysics rather than destroying it.

The transcendental aesthetic, Kant's discovery, uses what we immediately experience as a subject (the subjective), to discover that which remains invariant by the properties of that immediate experience, necessarily existing in each human experience, and thus across all human experiences--this is known as the relativistic-objective, a good definition for a universal truth at least in the human experience (this movement from a subjective experience to the objective by universalization is the transcendental!). This is possible because our experience, by the nature of experience, is limited by our perception--thus being at the limit of what can be known; however this also means each subject has the same pure intuitions in order to have experience at all: causality, space, and time. The result is, one, communication is possible, but two, we can have universal knowledge of the 'world' because all experiences are derived from those four intuitions and thus will always be confined by them.

I shouldn't give you the answer, but rationality ends up being justified by the pure intuition of causality not because it's a special game but instead it happens to be universal in the inter-subjective as a pure intuition because it's a requirement for the 'subject' to exist at all.

I've taken some liberties to make this concise, but I really recommend to read at least The Prolegomena. You can also go through some of my previous comments to see others I've left on similar topics.

What about Singer's argument did you not find convincing?

Effectively I disagree with utilitarianism and instead believe that intents are what provides moral soundness—this is the counter-argument provided by Singer, where he provides cases where utility calculations failed to the opposite effect, causing despair.

Also read Nozick’s Monster https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_monster

* For an (opinionated) overview of philosophy up until the first part of the 20th century you can try Russell's History of Western Philosophy [1].

* A very detailed and useful resource for a lot of topics is also the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [2].

* You can also try the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction series [3]. These cover a broad range of topics, not just philosophy; plus, you can approach each topic separately, without having to go through things that might not interest you.

Of course, these recommendations completely ignore non-western philosophical traditions. Hindu and Buddhist traditions might also be interesting to explore.

Personally I have approached philosophy strictly as an autodidact, hence quite haphazardly. After having explored a bunch of topics I however find most use and interest in those more modern and analytical parts of philosophy that touch on science, mathematics, cognitive science, logic.

Political and moral philosophy are also quite important because they allow you to get a grasp of the intellectual framework modern institutions are built on. A lot of the things that we take for granted (e.g. representative democracy, the ubiquity of nation-states, the central role of economic institutions in society) are actually not at all dictated by nature, but more by cultural norms and various philosophical ideas and systems.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Western_Philosoph...

[2] https://plato.stanford.edu/

[3] https://global.oup.com/academic/content/series/v/very-short-...

In 2020, I think A.C. Grayling's The History of Philosophy is a better bet if you're looking for a single-volume introduction to Western Philosophy. Although, as with Russell, you have to take Grayling with a pinch of salt when he writes about philosophers outside of the analytic tradition.

"For an (opinionated) overview of philosophy up until the first part of the 20th century you can try Russell's History of Western Philosophy"

Opinionated is one way of describing it. Myopic, ill-informed, and narrow-minded on subjects that Russell wasn't an expert on is another way to put it.

As someone who used to be a huge fan of Russell when I was young, I'd say a beginner would do themselves a huge disservice by letting their views of philosophy be colored by Russell's bias and mischaracterization of philosophers he doesn't appreciate or understand.

Thinking about it now, I'm not even sure you can have such a thing as an 'objective' overview of philosophy. Clearly nobody will be equally knowledgeable about let's say, the pre-socratics, the Cambridge Platonists and contemporary moral philosophers. On top of that, everybody has their own opinions, their likes and dislikes.

With this in mind, it's probably good to treat anything you read as something that has to be filtered through your own mind; always questioned and re-questioned, compared with the original sources and with competing interpretations and views.

At the end of the day we have to make our own mind, nothing should be taken as holy writ. This is the case for people with some philosophical experience, as well as for beginners.

I studied philosophy at the undergraduate level only, so take these opinions with a grain of salt.

Philosophy is a cosmos, the same way that science is: you study particular fields within it based on what you want to get out of them.

The "questions of life" fall into several categories (not exhaustive): biological, phenomenological/experiential, emotional, moral, existential, absurd. Do any of those interest you?

Edit: I also want to say that I strongly encourage people interested in reading and learning philosophy to do it in a class or group setting, at least initially. It's good to be an independent reader and interpreter, but most philosophy makes heavy use of terms of art that can be profoundly misleading or easy to misinterpret on one's own, particularly when getting started.

> I also want to say that I strongly encourage people interested in reading and learning philosophy to do it in a class or group setting, at least initially.

My bachelor's is in philosophy and I second this.

Read the original sources, ideally in a group setting, since discourse is key to philosophy.

Start with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, work your way up through the ages. But read through the original sources.

Also don't be afraid to try a different translation if you're struggling, as sometimes the translation can make it break understanding and enjoyment.

This may also help determine what area you might want to dig into. Ethics? Politics? Mind/how we think? Logic? Existence? Perception?

Plato’s dialogues are mostly accessible and deal with basic philosophical questions. He was not the first philosopher, but his works are a great starting point to understanding the foundations of western philosophy. I forget the names of each one, but the series of dialogues involving Socrates’s trial and imprisonment are quick to read and thought-provoking. The best part of Plato is that he doesn’t just tell you what he thinks, he teaches you how to think critically and philosophically.

Once you’ve finished Plato, you can move onto Aristotle, particularly his Ethics.

As for “how to deal with bad things,” the Stoics are very popular now. Also check out the Epicureans. I think you should balance out these views with alternate approaches, maybe from Laozi.

After that, you may be interested in the rationalist-empiricist debate. (I’m skipping over a lot of medieval work that laid the foundations for this.) Descartes and Hume are the most readable of each group, respectively, in my experience.

If you are interested, you can move onto questions of “the meaning of life” or however you want to phrase it. A lot of this work rests on the very difficult works of Hegel and Kant, which would take a ton of time and effort to read and are probably not worth it for a non-academic. Kierkegaard is wonderful but also difficult to read. Fortunately at this stage, there are novelists who have read this stuff and put it into novels. Dostoyevsky and Camus provide a good synthesis of existential thought, coming to very different conclusions.

Everything I’ve mentioned in this comment can be read in a year or less, assuming you read at least the major one or two works from each author I’ve mentioned. At that point you won’t have an academic understanding of the field, but you’ll have a solid practical philosophical foundation for your daily life.

Start with the basics. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle form the foundation of Western Philosophy.

Note that philosophy requires a significant amount of thought on your own part. There are parts of these three (and many others that follow) that are absurd. See Aristotle on many scientific matters. They lived in a society with slaves, so you’ll find some hierarchical views of humans that we now reject.

What’s most important from there is what you care about.

Is it epistemology — the study of knowledge? Or ethics — what is right, wrong, just? Is it political philosophy, be it democracy or monarchy or anarchy? Are you curious about power? Want to explore consciousness, what it is to be a “self” and the repercussions of those answers? Maybe linguistics, how we communicate, use language, and the strengths/weaknesses of it.

There is philosophy of sport, of war, of aesthetics; on gender and race; on the meaning (or not!) of things; on life and death and god(s) and spirituality; on machines, computers, and artificial intelligence.

I believe that the Greeks are important because they are so foundational to what comes after. Everything, the saying goes, is a footnote to them.

But after that, follow your questions. You can spend a hell of a lot of time reading things you don’t deeply care about. It will be a slog and without an external forcing function, you’ll probably lose interest and give up. For me that is philosophy of language, specifically a fair bit of what I consider to be nonsense in the past sixty years.

A good way to find who to read is to first know what people call it (e.g. epistemology) and then either find college courses or online lists. Go back to the early work and work your way through the Core. From there you’ll know enough of what the questions are that you can branch out.

For introductions, my favorite is Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy.

It's a fascinating subject but be prepared to be utterly confused the deeper you dive. I've concluded, like philosopher Michael Huemer, that few philosophical principles can be uncontroversially concluded. Excerpt from The Problem of Political Authority [1]:

"Questions of this kind are notoriously difficult. How should we approach them? One approach would be to start from some comprehensive moral theory–say, utilitarianism or Kantian deontology–and attempt to deduce the appropriate conclusions about political rights and obligations. I, unfortunately, cannot do this. I do not know the correct general moral theory, and I don’t think anyone else does either. The reasons for my skepticism are difficult to communicate, but they derive from reflection on the problems of moral philosophy and on the complex, confusing, and constantly disputed literature about those problems. It is a literature in which one theory after another runs into a morass of puzzles and problems that becomes ever more complicated as more philosophers work on it. I cannot fully communicate the situation here; the best way of appreciating my skepticism about moral theory is to delve into that literature yourself. Here, I shall simply announce that I will not assume any comprehensive moral theory, and I think we should be very skeptical of any attempt to arrive at sound conclusions in political philosophy by starting from such a theory. Nor, for similar reasons, do I start by assuming any general political theory, though we shall arrive at a political theory in the end."

As far as an overarching philosophy, I've concluded on intuitionism, closely approximated by Huemer's Ethical Intuitionism [2].

[1] https://spot.colorado.edu/~huemer/1.htm [2] Excerpt: https://spot.colorado.edu/~huemer/5.htm

In my opinion, philosophy as a means of understanding ourselves and our world beyond what science can tell us is essentially futile. In Plato's day, there was no delineation between science, philosophy and mathematics. The word "philosophy" meant "love of wisdom" in Greek. A philosopher was just someone who wanted to discover knowledge of any kind. Over time, philosophers systematized certain areas of knowledge, giving us math, logic, and science. The areas of knowledge that we were able to systematize are no longer considered to be philosophy. Philosophy today, almost by definition, is the study of problems that have resisted all attempts at systematic understanding for two thousand years. It has no wisdom for us. If you want wisdom, look to math and science.

Psychology, sociology, biology, physics, astronomy, and mathematics offer knowledge that can help you understand the world and your place in it. Philosophy simply does not offer that kind of knowledge, as much as it does try.

You make a very good point. The central issue has become; What does the word Philosophy itself mean in the current time and context? The way i look at it is as a holistic integration of the essence of the various compartmentalized sciences. It is of necessity somewhat vague since everything plays into (in some form) what one may call as my emergent consciousness. As a living organism on a time scale, i need to continuously adapt to my circumstances but how do i do it and still maintain autonomy? Nature has given us a brain which thinks thoughts well over and above that of mere survival and reproduction. Hence my need for meaning and happiness.

One way is a completely materialistic viewpoint best laid out by Jack London in his novel "The Sea Wolf" - https://old.reddit.com/r/books/comments/1jqpar/what_book_sin... The other way is to either subscribe (suspending judgement) to an existing school and follow its Religion or come up with your own based on what appeals to you.

I was a philosophy major at a good (but not top) department. You are getting a lot of advice from autodidacts here that is well-intentioned but, in my view, unproductive.

First, as a general heuristic, if there's some topic (in philosophy or otherwise) you want to learn, find syllabuses of courses in that subject at good universities and figure out what books they use.

If you do this for philosophy courses, you will find either anthologies of (contemporary) articles, or modern textbooks like Jaegwon Kim's Philosophy of Mind. At a high level, these more or less follow the same format (after perhaps some historical prologue). A reasonable view is presented, then in the next chapter (or essay) an important objection is discussed. This goes on for a while until you understand the strengths and weaknesses of various positions. At the end, you may favor one or another, but rarely is there is a clear winner.

Note that philosophy is distinct from the history of philosophy. If you care about what is true, and not the historical development of ideas, there's not much point in reading things written before, say, 1900, or even 1950. So no Hume or Hegel or whatever. In general these texts are poorly written and unclear compared to modern ones. And of course, they can't treat the developments that have taken place in the intervening years. Consider an analogy: you would not read Newton's original manuscripts to learn calculus.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good reference work, but it presents mainly literature overviews, not pedagogical essays. Again, you wouldn't read an encyclopedia to learn math; it is similarly unwise here.

You write about developing models that address "the bigger questions of life," and "a personal philosophy." This is not something that contemporary academic philosophy talks much about, at least in the broad sense. But, in this direction, you might enjoy "Six Myths About the Good Life: Thinking About What Has Value" by Joel Kupperman. There's a good review of the book here: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/six-myths-about-the-good-life-think....

> Note that philosophy is distinct from the history of philosophy. If you care about what is true, and not the historical development of ideas, there's not much point in reading things written before, say, 1900, or even 1950. So no Hume or Hegel or whatever. In general these texts are poorly written and unclear compared to modern ones. And of course, they can't treat the developments that have taken place in the intervening years. Consider an analogy: you would not read Newton's original manuscripts to learn calculus.

This type of view is extremely common amongst students of analytic philosophy. The "problem" approach to philosophy.

IMO Reading Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Heidegger, etc. and other thinkers deemed outdated and unworthy is absolutely a good use of time for anyone interested in Philosophy. This post is actually the first time I've ever heard anybody suggest not reading Hume.

Well, yeah, it was an analytic department. I also happen to think that's the "right" view.

To clarify, I don't think reading the original texts is a bad use of time if you're already in deep, just that it's not good for a first introduction (for the reasons I mentioned). Plato was simply confused about a ton of things and makes egregious errors while reasoning through ideas. We don't read him because he was right, we read him for other reasons.

For a more detailed treatment of this issue, see this blog post: http://fakenous.net/?p=1168.

I can't possibly see reading Hegel being a good idea for a beginner. It'll just lead to thinking philosophy is intentionally obtuse. He's basically impossible to parse without taking a philosophy course. http://existentialcomics.com/comic/281

Yes, as a philosophy major, I also agree that anything that is not 20th century philosophy is not really that helpful. It can be interesting academically, to trace the evolution of philosophy, but it won't really scratch that itch of engaging in the big questions.

The biggest value I got out of being a philosophy major was building reading concentration skills - being able to read dense passages takes a lot of commitment and practice, and that can build thinking skills. The internet teaches us to skim and do fast/shallow reading, which doesn't lead to deep thinking. Reading older philosophy is a great way of building those deep reading skills, even if the actual content of those texts is not applicable to modern life.

To the OP, if you see this, I would suggest looking into Experimental Philosophy. It's a branch of philosophy that focuses on using neuroscience to understand how we think about the world. Books like Thinking Fast and Slow may be much more interesting to you.

I too have a philosophy degree from a good department. Your comments are basically dead on, but I would add a slight caveat regarding pre-contemporary philosophy.

I do think there is some pedagogical value in reading some canonical works of modern philosophy, just for context about what Frege and later analytical philosophers are reacting to. I wouldn't completely write off Kant and Hume, for instance. Hegel, yes, but that doesn't mean it's completely not worth reading.

> If you care about what is true,

What is truth?

I go with Nietzsche and think that philosophers seeking the absolute truth are actually influenced by Christianity.

By adding "absolute" to "truth," you seem to be alluding to (but not stating) a non-deflationary account of truth that OP almost certainly does not believe.

Second, what does Christianity have to do with anything? Was Aristotle influenced by Christianity?

It might be poorly worded but OP's comment sounds very absolute about this to me.

> Second, what does Christianity have to do with anything?

The way Kant tries to base his theories on axioms is similar to what some theologians did.

Yes, there is something deeply common between theology and philosophy: the former studies that which does not exist, while the latter is seeking the answers to questions to which there are none.

If you find yourself struggling to parse traditional philosophy, which honestly is likely if you aren't planning on taking a philosophy course I'd suggest reading philosophical novels. Camus's the stranger and Sartre's no exit are great works that are foremost page turners while also demanding considerable thought. I like thus spoke zarathrustra a lot but it will be difficult with no background. If you want to get serious read the greeks. Beyond that it really depends on which area you're interested in. The Stanford encyclopedia is a great resource. I'd stay away from Hegel and Kant at first, although they are incredibly influential. They'll probably turn you away because it's so hard to parse.

Not reading.

Living, observing, and reflecting has been the most beneficial to my pursuit of knowing myself, finding peace, and then realizing it's all futile (yes, even the reaching the mountain top of enlightenment -- a sham).

Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and observations for the day -- observing your thoughts and emotions as you do. From there, you can understand what you think, how you feel, and make changes as you see fit.

Books and philosophers can offer you nothing but a distraction off the path.

It's Zen Koan in a way; the underlying pattern between all of them is that it's all subjective, there is no truth. Stop looking so hard, and just live.

Rather than list all the classics like Plato, Aristotle, Hume, etc., I always suggest that those new to philosophy pick a book that will “shock” them, so to speak. Something that makes the reader go, “Wow, I had never considered the world from that perspective before.”

For this purpose, I recommend some of the following:

- Max Stirner. Sort of a proto-anarchist that critiqued everything and denied the authority of everyone.

- Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morality. The concepts in this book will radically shake up your understanding of modern ethics and values.

- A work about Zen Buddhism. Zen in particular is very focused on the everyday moment, in a way distinctly opposite from the common YOLO / carpe diem idea we’re all familiar with.

- Spinoza. HN’s especially will appreciate the complex, mathematical nature of his metaphysics.

As a philosophy major, I would advise you to pay attention to the order in which you expose yourself to materials. The earlier stronger impressions in your journey will naturally have a weight on your opinions of later materials. In addition, academic departments usually have an -ism bias so that will also influence their content recommendations.

A neutral starter would be: Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking

Once you have some formal thinking tools, I would approach philosophy building organically by writing down your beliefs and identifying questions and gaps, and then researching those ad-hoc. You may also discover that your current existing informal / intuitive model is mostly sufficient for a 21st century life.

"A neutral starter would be: Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking. Once you have some formal thinking tools, I would approach philosophy building organically by writing down your beliefs and identifying questions and gaps, and then researching those ad-hoc"

There are probably many HN readers who would find this a congenial approach, since there are so many programmers here, and logic is so close to math and programming.

I also can't deny that studying it does make one's thinking more rigorous, and it's useful for working with other philosophy (and with math and programming).

However, I am concerned that someone who starts off with logic might get the impression that that's what all philosophy is about, or that's what it builds on, and just stop there. While that's true for some types of philosophy, it's not true for the majority of philosophy.

Also, for those people who aren't in to math, logic, puzzles, or programming, I'm not sure this approach would be particularly engaging for them.

When starting from the Socratic dialogues, I think pretty much everyone gets engaged, since they deal with questions which are of universal concern. They are also questions and themes that run throughout the whole course of Western philosophy (and many in Eastern philosophy too, though from a different direction).

People who start with Socrates instead of logic might not have the tools to analyze his arguments rigorously (though if that's even possible is debatable), but they'd get a much better feel for what philosophy was about.

You raise good points.

I would agree that Plato/Aristotle are good foundations for understanding European intellectual history but a lot of chronological study is required to see their influence / relevance today. Here's a cool dependency graph that shows the centrality of Ancient thought: http://www.designandanalytics.com/philosophers-gephi/

However, I worry that a student without some grasp of valid inference would be at the mercy of aesthetic attraction/repulsion factors for deciding what to accept as valid.

I specifically recommended "Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking" because I found it to be the most practical and skill-based class in a Philosophy curriculum. While they usually cover some proofs, most of the content has to do with identifying arguments. In addition, having knowledge of formal/informal fallacies helps in everyday inference. It is also relatively free of heavy "Greco-roman" western bias, which may appeal to a wider audience.

Great comment.

Philosophy touches on topics beyond those bound by axioms, which is its beauty. It lets one wonder beyond the realm of what is knowable.

As a former philosophy major, I concur 100%.

There are many great recommendations of philosophy works to read, but logic itself is how philosophy works. I would even go as far as to say logic is the class that has had the single largest impact on my life.

If you are interested in Western Catholic philosophy (considering its dominance from 500-1500 and ongoing influence in our world), I'd recommend reading from the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. Even if you are not Catholic, it will give you a much better understanding of the origins of modern Western thought.

From Wikipedia: "Throughout the Summa, Aquinas cites Christian, Muslim, Hebrew, and Pagan sources, including, but not limited to: Christian Sacred Scripture, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Avicenna, Averroes, Al-Ghazali, Boethius, John of Damascus, Paul the Apostle, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maimonides, Anselm of Canterbury, Plato, Cicero, and John Scotus Eriugena."

I'm an Albertus Magnus guy myself. He understood the act of being in a personal relation with God better than Aquinas did.

Generic advice: skip the classics and read a modern introductory text about them.

If your goal is to understand, why would you read Newton rather than an entry-level college textbook?

I agree with this. I never understood why philosophy is always structured as a history of the subject. It would be like learning math from a history of math class. I would like to see a philosophy course which starts from a modern perspective and references the history as secondary.

"I never understood why philosophy is always structured as a history of the subject"

Because primary sources are highly valued in philosophy, and unlike math or science, those sources never become obsolete.

Also, contemporary philosophers trying to restate the ancients often distort the originals, or do so in an inferior way.

Philosophy is not a mathematical or experimental result you could just summarize or restate in an equivalent way without distorting the meaning.

That's not to say that summaries or restatements don't have their place in philosophy too, but to really get what these philosophers were saying there is no substitute for reading the originals.

One other thing I want to add is that, unlike most other academic fields, philosophy is very much a conversation where the participants of today are still in dialogue with people who wrote hundreds and thousands of years ago.

If you were to limit yourself to just what your contemporaries said and wrote, then even if these contemporaries were honestly doing their best to summarize and restate what came before them (instead of distorting them and putting words in their mouth, which philosophers have a bad habit of doing) then you wouldn't be a fully informed participant in the conversation.

It's also a bit like a court of law, where you don't want to admit hearsay evidence, but want to hear directly from the people who were there.

Maybe because “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” ?

I find the safest way of learning math a reasonable coupling of history of maths and maths, since you'll have to learn Euclidian geometry before going further anyway.

ps. I don't have strong opinions and I'm clearly biased as this is the path I chose myself, but your comment made me eager to speed up my pace.

With math and physics ok, but with thought wouldn't you want to get as close to the horse's mouth as possible?

I believe philosophy classics are accessible, unlike math and physics, to the lay person.

Another advantage of modern stuff is so many questions the ancient philosophers pondered have now been answered pretty much by science that it can be a bit frustrating to read the old stuff.

I strongly recommend reading Peter Singer.

His Practical Ethics [0] and other books are excellent.

Primarily, I think it's important to very seriously think about our moral obligations to others, especially in today's interconnected world (where we not only can, but inevitably do affect others whether we like it or not).

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Practical-Ethics-Peter-Singer/dp/0521...

Some thoughts:

1. Francis Schaeffer said that the problem of modern man is basically epistemological. (Epistemology is what we know, and how we know, and how we know we know.) You can see this showing up in things like "post truth" politics, the replication crisis in science, and the problem of determining what's going on from news reports that are biased in various directions. In whatever route you take, it might be worthwhile to make sure that you get at least some epistemology in your studying.

2. It sounds like you're interested in a rather pragmatic way, rather than academic. If so, I'm not sure groveling through the original authors is the optimal way to do what you want. Explorers take dead ends. Those dead ends are interesting, in an academic way, but not so interesting to a pragmatist.

3. If you're not going to read the original authors (all of them), then you're going to be relying on some kind of a guide (or more than one). Choose carefully, because who you choose will shape your journey, and probably your conclusions. Maybe more than one guide, from more than one perspective, would be useful.

4. Personally, I really like Francis Schaeffer. I'd recommend Escape From Reason and He Is There And He Is Not Silent as very short overviews of much of philosophy. But you're going to have to do some work, because in a short book, he does not answer every objection or fill in every blank. You are left the exercise of applying his ideas to your questions.

Schaeffer is a Christian, and his philosophy is explicitly Christian. If that turns you off... then it does.

I spent a good 5 or 6 years reading philosophy and psychology in my spare time. I don’t claim a formal understanding of the subject that would come close to what you would get from a college degree, but I do feel like I understand the zeitgeist a lot clearer than before.

I preface with that to say that my recommendation is to pick and chose which parts are of interest to you and then dive in further to the source material. If you take the approach that you must start at Aristotle, you run the risk of burning out before getting to areas that might be life changing to study.

I got my start by grabbing all of the “Introducing...” [1] series of graphic novels about subjects I commonly heard referenced but didn’t understand. From there, I dove into the underlying texts of everything I found interesting.

Again, I didn’t gain an academic understanding of the subject, but I came away with a wildly different worldview than when I started. Life’s too short to be an expert at everything, but that doesn’t have to stop you from exploring on your own.

[1] e.g. https://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Postmodernism-Graphic-Gui...

These books have some pretty deep illustrations, not just cartoon drawings of the subjects. One favorite of mine was a scene showing Monet painting haystacks, frustrated that a worker had left a ladder on one he was studying — I think the implication was Monet wasn’t _really_ trying to capture impressions of the haystacks as they appeared throughout the days and seasons, just his preferred impression.

Start with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The Great Courses has some good materials for the adult learner. You can branch out from there.

The best book for this is “How To Think About The Great Ideas” by Mortimer Adler. I studied philosophy undergrad and ran the philosophy club. We used a lot of material from this book to structure our meetings.

Many people have mentioned taking a class (I agree too) where you can engage in a conversation. This book’s content is transcribed from a series of TV shows with Adler, the host having a back and forth dialog with questions coming from audience. Adler speaks in a way that makes complicated ideas in a way a child could grasp. This book accomplishments the classroom setting.

The second reason is that the content is structured about ideas. Chapters are broken down into “How to think about law”, “How to think about freedom”, “How to think about love”, “How to think about philosophy”, etc. I find survey books with this organization much better say diving into a book by a major philosopher. This way you can jump around and read the chapters that interest you first, coming back to the others later.

I’ll close with two quotes from my favorite philosophy professor.

“I know how much you know not by the answers you give but by the questions you ask.”

“Philosophy is the subject that when ALL thinking is done, there’s still more thinking.”

An important note is that reading is entirely auxiliary to philosophy. The important thing is to think, and to interact with others who are thinking, either orally or in writing. I'd even go so far as to say you could be a philosopher in the fullest sense without ever reading a page of philisophy, although you'd need to know some smart philosophers to get away with that, and you'd be unnecessarily holding yourself back anyway.

The purpose of reading in philisophy is to become aware of interesting problems, challenging arguments, to notice and comprehend tools of thought, and to avoid spending your time developing your thoughts in a direction someone has already travelled. You can get all of this by talking to smart people, it's just that reading is much more efficient.

But what you can't get away with is just reading, or even just reading and writing. You need others to read what you write, and have them respond to you. Or engage with them back-and-forth orally (although writing really helps to organize your thoughts).

If you want to study philisophy, then, you'll need to find a way to interact with others who have studied philosophy, and the best place for that is a university, where you could ask to audit a class, or to join in a discussion hosted by a philosophy club.

If that's not an option, there are internet communities where people discuss philosophy, just be aware that these communities usually form around groups of people who share some philosophical view, and can be insular echo chambers, and they may not be interested in discussing any old philosophical topic. Academic philosophy is filled with bad ideas and counterproductive norms of discourse, and can guide you in completely the wrong direction, but they're still the best environment in which to learn to think.

You might try: https://www.openculture.com/philosophy_free_courses

Introduction to Logic

Ancient Philosophy

For quick reference: https://iep.utm.edu/

For the first few months at least, I'd suggest staying away from more modern philosophers like Kant, Nietzsche, etc. For the most part, classical education up until the last century studied the history and classics first, because they made more sense and endured that time for a reason.

Don't caught up in what can't be known, natural of reality, or getting stuck in a belief system which may feel grand, but is myopic or stunting. Don't force it- it can be like hard math. Some philosophy and (anti-)theology can even f- you up. If you feel like you're falling into a hole or learning the secrets of the universe in a way that is starting to make you feel like you don't belong, switch to something else or drop it completely. If you have nightmares or lose yourself, maybe try (self-)EMDR or get a hypnotist to help you forget it, like Peter Gibbons.

It sounds like you're interested in ethics, but I'd suggest not starting with that. Although I personally believe in having ethical and moral behavior, for me it developed from experience more than my studies; you don't need to be like Chidi from The Good Place, unless that's what you dig. If you get too pedantic, try Metaphysics or just take a break.

If you're looking for practical life guidance, and you can take a little stoicism, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is good gateway into that (Penguin Classics, or Munro's audiobook).

Actually, I found watching The Good Place to be really enjoyable in part because of how well it acted as an introduction to philosophy and ethics.

There's some great scenes explicitly addressing concepts like utilitarianism and it's ups and downs, moral desserts, classic examples like the Trolley Problem, and relativism that, at least for me, made those concepts much more accessible when I was doing more reading later on because I already had some sort of concrete idea of how those concepts addressed certain (fantastical) situations.

It's also just a wonderful show, and I think it's worth recommending on its own merits, but there's definitely some actual value there as an accessible intro to several different aspects of philosophy.

I love The Good Place and only recently realized that even the characters might be loosely based on some "Gnostic" beliefs (Valentinianism, etc), like the judge (e.g. Sophia).

This is really more history of philosophy, but the "Secret history of Western Esotericism Podcast" at https://www.shwep.net is really something. If nothing else, it'll make you want to go read Plato's works to see what your high school philosophy class didn't go into.

I love the shwep. Episode on Plato's Parmenides is pretty fab.

Start with G. K. Chesterton's _Orthodoxy_ - https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16769 It is not an overview of philosophy, but it is one person's account of how he found one and it touches on a lot of questions you may want to ask yourself.

Is the philosophy that Chesterton found something other than conservative Christianity, and is Orthodoxy anything other than apologetics for the same?

_Orthodoxy_ is his account for how he came to Christianity by constructing his own philosophy because it turned out that his philosophy was an ad hoc, informally-specified implementation of half of Christianity's philosophy ... so, "yes"?

Wittgenstein is an important philosopher in the 20th century, not just for having answered questions, but because he also pointed out important questions,that we did not see. Seeing them now in this way is bringing us closer to answers needed now. He raised doubts about functionalism, the theory that is the basis of the computer revolution's theory of mind. So for example, he showed that just knowing the rules for computation was not enough to bring forth intelligence, much the less the wisdom that is the deeper need.His private language argument, that language is not private, speaks to the community needed to make computers work. One of the more important aspects in philosophy is Kant's post Church, post science goals, was for us to think for ourselves; we can't just pass the problem off to others. Much of this is happening now, even taken for granted, but Wittgenstein helped bring it about.

There's a series of comic books called Action Philosophers that I very much enjoyed. Each issue is about a different philosopher (Spinoza, Plato, Aristotle, Kant etc.) and for light reading it's really nice for getting a baseline introduction to different ideas.

Note that it is in no way comprehensive. I majored in philosophy in college and had already read the primary texts for all of the philosophers featured in the comics before I discovered this series. That being said, I found the interpretations to be reasonably faithful and that's why I've recommended the series to friends that are curious and want to browse without tackling large, dense tomes.

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant is a good if slightly outdated intro. I also read Sophie's World and would recommend reading that first, but you can skip it if you don't want to read fiction.

If you want something that talks purely about ideas without reference to the famous names, Bertrand Russell's book The Problems of Philosophy is also good. It give a very good overview of the major questions that philosophy keeps coming back to without dwelling too much on the history of the different answers. He also gives his own opinions on some of these issues, but you don't have to take that too seriously.

I would also recommend the 'Story of Philosophy' for an introduction to western philosophical thought.

The problem I found in reading, or general media consumption is, you'll very likely to directly take everything the authoritative figures say, without resolving internally, if you don't have strong personal philosophy yet. I hate to talk with people who quote Hegel or Kant all the time, using them as natural laws. Even I agree with some of it and respect them a lot, I don't think in essence they're more valuable than any random homeless people say. There are people who read a ton but have the poorest mind. The same goes to artists, there're a ton of artists who read a lot, watched a lot and listened to a lot but still make absolute crap.

I think getting into the field of philosophy is very different from developing a personal philosophy. The "field" sounds to me like you'll be talking to other people who study philosophy, and you're expected to read certain materials to stay literal. But to develop your own personal philosophy there's no requirements about what you need to read. I consider myself to have strong personal philosophy, where I have a general rule / ideal mindset that explains everything (ideal meaning I might not act to what I believe in), and my philosophies are the direct reason that I'm always very happy in life (which is my primary goal). I rarely talk to other people about these, so I consider myself not in the field of philosophy.

So no, I don't think there's a general clear path to develop a personal philosophy. What is personal philosophy? It's your own personal way of living. I would say it's a lot luck, either you found it or not. It's possible to read something, or watched something that coincidentally matched very well with your underlying personal philosophy that you haven't discovered yourself yet, and discovered a bit after experiencing those, so my only advise would be stay honest with yourself, keep reading / watching / listening to whatevery you're most interested in. Personally I think the film First Love: The Litter on the Breeze (1998), 20th Century Nostalgia (1997) and The Troubleshooters (1988) helped me discover my personal philosophy, but that's highly personal, just written here for reference (also recommend to everyone because they're good).

Not a classic nor even something that's stood the test of time nor even something that's done yet, but I've been interested in David Chapman's stuff



https://meaningness.com/further-reading (some of his influences and suggestions for reading, much of which is philosophy or philosophy-adjacent)

Mental models are one of his primary focuses (especially in In the Cells of the Eggplant). (He has a background in formal AI and a longtime academic interest in how an AI, or a human, could usefully model and act in the world. More recently he's been a serious student and practitioner of some less-well-known-to-English-speakers sorts of Buddhism, which he mostly tries to describe to his website readers from a secular, naturalist perspective.) I appreciate that he's kind, curious, thorough, intelligent, and eclectic. I sometimes think I'll be doing well if I get to 30% of his attainment in any of these areas!

Everyone has a personal philosophy, and your path of personal growth is the path by which your personal philosophy is developed.

There are many great interviews with Mike Tyson where he gets highly philosophical. He has some amazing lines, and they just keep hitting hard.

Steve Jobs had great philosophy, arguably laying the foundations upon which Apple was built. Many great entrepreneurs share this pattern.

Einstein and Feynmen are known for their philosophical genius also.

Great philosophy can come from politicians, artists, writers, and even comedians. George Carlin and Patrice O'neal are my favorite. There's great philosophy surrounding sports too. The Last Dance is a great watch.

My only point is, don't marginalize yourself to the field of philosophy. Philosophy is deep thinking, and the ability to articulate and navigate those thoughts. The books under the philosophy section are the thoughts that have nowhere else to be. Great philosophy about computation will be under Computers.

If you're serious about your personal philosophy, then start writing your thoughts down. Then organize them and edit them and pursue them. Pick up books that answer your questions and read the organized thoughts of your role models. Every field has its great philosophers, and more often than not, they're the trail blazers of their field. They will not be found under philosophy.

Because the field is so broad and often highly technical I strongly recommend avoiding getting rabbit-holed. Focus on breath rather than depth.

Survey the landscape first - get a hand-wavey high level understanding on the two primary schools today: analytic vs continental philosophy. Then study each one’s history and origins.

Read this book (also available as YouTube videos I think): https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Book-Ideas-Simply-Explaine...

This will give you high level introduction of the landscape across the various epochs, the big ideas and their main purveyors.

At the end of that you should have a good idea which philosopher/era/ideas interest you most. Only then consider diving deeper.

Specifically because you speak of mental models and “developing a personal philosophy” (and because you are on this website I am making some assumptions about your background ans familiarity with computer science/information theory) I also recommend Luciano Floridi. The Logic of Information: A Theory of Philosophy as Conceptual Design


Glad to see this on here. Plenty of good comments. And I'd say there is no downside to spending a particular portion of your daily mental exertions wrestling with The Big Questions

You won't find a better place to begin that the Alain de Botton School of Life series (though perhaps could use a more balanced Western to Eastern ratio). Start with Kant, see if it tempts your interest, and you should be able to consume the whole lot in a short sitting:


For a deeper dive, there is a classic series of audio lectures that used to be sold via mail-order and arrive on cassette tapes! You can find many online (narrated in Charlton Heston's authoritative voice no less):


Then take to twitter to communicate directly with giants in the field: Slavoj Zizek, Daniel Dennett, Alva Noe, and many others are active


And finally you'll be ready to dive into the Arxiv of Philosophy Papers: PhilPapers


Best of Luck, Rupi ;)

I've read criticisms that Botton is too opinionated, misrepresenting philosophers in order to comport with his worldview.

I personally think that there isn't a better primer than Wikipedia, but I'm hardly a philosopher.

The History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell, is a great starting point. It reviews probably 30 prominent philosophers from the Western world, starting with the ancient Greeks and coming to modern day.

It's not comprehensive, and Russell isn't focused on staying completely objective on each subject. But it's a great overview, and in my opinion the subjectivity from Russell adds a bit of personality that makes it easier to read.

Its also outdated and Russel is sometimes plain wrong in how he represents some philosophers. That book should no longer be recommended as there are plain better books available.

This is a controversial opinion but I think that an introduction to philosophy should probably focus on commentaries and summaries of the great works rather than the original source material. This is stems from a general point about education that it is usually easier to absorb knowledge from a text book that summarizes research than to get it from the original research itself. Philosophy as an academic discipline is somewhat exceptional in that it strictly emphasizes the original works/classics as opposed to most sciences which focus on summaries of key concepts (nobody reads Darwin to learn about evolution or Keynes to learn about economics though both authors are worth reading at some point). This is probably not the best approach for new comers. Obviously things will be missing but these are much more accessible and provide a lot of context that would be lacking if one were to simply jump in.

The advice to take an intro course is solid. Open culture has a few linked courses that look good (it’s all about the quality of the lecturer). Also a compendium book is a good place to start.

I agree with you, because it would be too time consuming to read all original sources. To get the context (how ideas evolved over time) you need to learn a bit about the history of philosophy.

On the other hand reading original sources gives you more than a summary. The way of thinking leading to the idea or the way the idea is presented is often more interesting than the idea itself.

Take Platon for example. The way he teaches his ideas in dialogue form is very pedagogical. It is even used in psychology [0].

An other example is Freud. He uses a very genius style of logical reasoning. Reading a summary of his ideas doesn't help you because you'll probably not understand it (and think it's nonsense) and sometimes he is just wrong (e.g. homosexuality is mental illness).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_questioning#Psycholog...

I disagree with this om the basis that it unnecessarily constrains your thinking. If you read the primary sources first then you can go in with an open mind and come to your own interpretation. If you read the secondary sources first then you'll be fitting it into the boxes provided when you read the primary.

The podcast The History of Philosophy without any gaps is a great way to get into it. I found the philosophy of the pre-socratics all the way through to the scholastics was easy to understand and grasp as a lay person. After that, the language gets a bit dense. However, I was still able to understand it.


Take any suggestions with a grain of salt. Philosophy as a discipline has terrible quality control, and there is a great deal of status worship and outright charlatanry.

Often the big interesting questions are unanswerable, so the field is split between those who pretend to give answers (sometimes via bait-and-switch tactics, whereby a trivial or only tangentially relevant question is swapped in for the interesting one; sometimes via obscure, grandiose, ultimately hollow nonsense), those who fiddle around the edges making 'progress' that can never resolve anything important, and those who give boring history lessons about the failures of the past.

On the other hand, philosophy can provide you with a toolset for dissolving confusion, crystallising concepts, and minimising self-deception. In its more poetic forms it can be inspiring and emotionally resonant, if you are that way inclined. Follow your nose, delve deeply into the areas that interest you, and make sure it's an active process: always be thinking, rather than hoping to passively receive knowledge.

Can you list some of the people you consider charlatans?

For me, the biggest boost lately was Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Black Swan, Antifragile. He's a real philosopher in a sense that he addresses real world problems instead on messing with theory. He's an insightful practitioner who builds proper terms to describe phenomena he observes and follow consequences. For me, his books were not only very inspiring because of its messsage (not popular, but seems very true, using terms he proposes contributed much to my understanding of the world), but set a good example of forming a good base for finding out stuff. He's inspiring, because he has similar interests to me, especially cognitive biases and he shows with his success that you can refuse to do bull*t people do nowadays and be successful. Plus, he's much into Probability Theory, so he's a good choice for an engineer who prefer mathematics over more social stuff.

I would also recommend The Structure of Science Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn), very important book to understand how science works, what are its limitations, how should we treat scientific facts. It also show very nature of learning about world (it's not lineary incremental like most people think). It also emphasize that there is always quite a lot of dogma in science (you need some assumptions that can't be really proved right, only wrong if you dwell on it and eventually fail). If you are interested in modern science belief system and what are stuff it can't explain (according to Kuhn, any science paradigm has smaller or bigger blind spot), it's quite well explained in The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake.

If you are interested in nature of non-linearity of learning, what were steps in forming human's worldview, I think Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West make a good point. I can't say for sure, because I have only started (it's very long, 1500 pages), but I definitely like the guy. :)

I'm not sure why this comment is getting downvoted. I have read a lot of Nassim Taleb and completely agree with your comment.

He is a modern philosopher with really valuable insights about how to navigate the world given all of our biases and inability to accept the role of uncertainty in just about everything we do.

Check this: https://scholar.harvard.edu/sandel/justice

I saw this years ago and I am still so impressed by how engaging these lectures are. Michael Sandel is great.

Of course this is not holistic review of philosophy, but I guarantee you, you'll watch it as if it was the best netflix drama.

Read as much as you can on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [0] and Wikipedia. Switch over to real books once you’ve got some clarity on what you’re most interested in. Read books on the history of philosophy as well.

Don’t worry about “mental models” and “personal philosophy.”

[0] https://plato.stanford.edu/

As others have mentioned, that's a very difficult question to answer. Philosophy is huge and incredibly subjective, often based on what each persons perspective considers a certain context of reality to be worth philosophizing. Personally I enjoy Bertrand Russell and Terence McKenna very very much, I've invested a lot of time in both of them. .

The author of Existential Comics offers some advice:


I like courses or philosophical works, which focus on a common themes, common threads. That allows one to see more connections across different thinkers.

One instance of this is John Vervaeke's Awaking from the meaning crisis (which isn't only philosophy, but also cognitive science).

Other courses like that are those from John Searle (philosophy of language, philosophy of mind).

Hubert Dreyfus has a course on existentialism in literature and film.

Thinking of it, there is also a channel called Like Stories Of Old. The maker publishes video-essays, which are often philosophical in tone and reference existential thinkers like Kierkegaard.

My own journey into philosophy started with Wittgenstein (apart from an introduction in Greek Philosophy in high school).

You want to develop a personal philosophy? Travel the world, meet all kinds of people, work different jobs. Start a family, raise kids, build something, help others, get out of your comfort zone.

These things will shape your worldview. Reading books is just a small piece in this puzzle, and I'd definitely skip books written by professional philosophers.

I think having a good introduction before reading the big books suggested here is a good idea. For an introductory book, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy is pretty good. It's short, and covers the important topics and how philosophers thought about them. You can then move on to reading the classics.

I think that it is best to approach the practice of philosophy and the output of that practice as really meaningful, but not that important. I believe that there is an inverse relationship between the tangible life benefits of studying philosophy and the weight of meaning that you require from that study. And, I hereby do attest to the real good that the study of philosophy can render in one's everyday life! But, it seems to me that this benefit is greater during times where I am comfortable treating it as a great way to train the mind and spirit for the real world. Rather than mistake the training for the actual fight of living. To maintain a good life contending with all the whorling complexity and dizzying vastness of the universe is where the work done on the sparing grounds pays its dividends. Or, as it were, doesn't

As a philosophy graduate I would say that learning philosophy solely from books would be a very ambitious / dangerous attempt. The philosophical books can be very persuasive for the beginner in the field, leading to many misconceptions. I would recommend to take part in some (university/on-line) courses, but not in one, but at least two from different teachers.

As for the books, Plato (Socrates dialogues) is must have to understand the field. Also it's fun to read, so it's great to begin with :) The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle is another beginner friendly book which lays field for others to follow; it's much more practical/friendly than the Metaphysics, which should be approached only with an assistance of a good teacher (unless you're a genius like Avicenna or Thomas Aquineas).

I started down this rabbit hole some years back and am (still) somewhat there

I knew a little already, so I started with topics in metaphysics/epistomology, made up my mind about them, and moved more into meta-ethics/ethics and more "practical" philosophies. Reason being, if you have a strong stance on something like free will, a lot of your ethics can be derived from there.

If you ever want to talk about it, feel free to shoot me an email evankozliner@gmail.com

I've also got a blog and substack where I write sometimes. You need to write about this stuff to really absorb it imo.

https://thinkoutloudnews.substack.com/ https://medium.com/@evankozliner

I recommend you take a look at the topics in Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy and see if any subject matter interests you, and then use their bibliographic references for your readings:


I suggest not wasting your time reading surveys of general philosophy or taking some sort of 'intro' course in comparative philosophy. That's an academic route, and probably won't lead you anywhere. Unfortunately, it's likely the most common response you'll get here.

I'd start by asking yourself a simple question: who do you admire most? Look at what values and 'philosophy' they have. Learn more about what's behind them. Dig deeper. There is no particular path here; you're asking an age-old question that doesn't have a clear answer. Your values are the root of any 'philosophy' you might have. Get clear about your values, then look around.

Forgot the books. You're in era of Digital Learning and suggestion is to learn online as per your time from anywhere, anytime.

Here you will find online courses (which can be free) on the topic of philosophy.


MOOC is platform to learn almost anything and you'll find many courses from prestigious university like,

- Harvard University - Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Microsoft - Google - Amazon - London Business of School - University of California, Berkeley - Imperial College London

Learning from these university surely will help you to gain critical components of particular subjects and will also help to boost your resume.

A few years ago I was on a tram reading one of these alphabet books on philosophy, made especially for the students like myself who didn't pay attention in class and needed to learn the main concepts and authors quickly before the test. A homeless person sat in front of me, and seeing me reading that book, suggested me a book by a French philosopher named Émile Bréhier [1]. The book in question was Histoire de la Philosophie, translated in English, and covers all the way from the Pre-Socratics to the modern philosophy at the time of the author (circa 1930 IIRC).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Br%C3%A9hier

My general recommendation would be to read a really high-quality book by a philosopher on an issue you care about. Here are some I would recommend:

* ‘superintelligence’ by Nick Bostrom

* ‘Down Girl: the logic of misogyny’ by Kate Manne

* ‘dialogues on ethical vegetarianism’ or ‘The Problem of Political Authority’ by Michael Huemer.

These are admittedly not going to cover the so-called big questions of philosophy, or survey the history of epistemology. But, like Michael Huemer, I think that most works of philosophy are not worth reading, so that you might as well start with something really good and work backwards (e.g. pick one of these books and then read any of the references that sound interesting).

Peter Singer is someone whose books you could pick up and read straight through as well.

For very concise introductions, check out the 1000-word essays on philosophical topics written by philosophy professors. https://1000wordphilosophy.com

For a deeper dive also written by philosophy professors, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is unrivaled. https://plato.stanford.edu

Richard Marshall's 3:16am interviews with philosophers are also great. https://www.3-16am.co.uk

I recommend trying to familiarize yourself with the main fields in philosophy first (aesthetics, ethics, postmodernism, whatever) and major contributors. I did this mostly through podcasts. Pick a few philosophers from you favorite field and try to read some of their smallest essays. There's usually an online copy floating around and then flesh out your understanding against secondary sources (reviews, response, wikis or podcasts discussing the piece, etc). Eventually you can work your way up to bigger game, but that's how I do it as an amateur with a passing interest

It's not necessarily a book, but I can recommend "The Philosopher's Toolkit: How to Be the Most Rational Person in Any Room", by the Great Courses on Audible.

I decided to get it with a remaining Audible credit I had, and found it to be informative and easy to understand for someone without any previous experience in philosophy. It also comes with a 200-page PDF guidebook that includes the bulk of the content and follows along with the lectures. I think it's easier to digest then just reading through a traditional book as well.

Depends on your age. If you are in college, taking an introductory course or two on ethics and metaphysics could be useful. If that's not possible or realistic, Nicomachean Ethics, A Critique of Pure Reason, and Utilitarianism were the most useful classic philosophy texts I have read, and should be available on the internet and in most large public libraries. Be warned however that all can be quite daunting, companion books could be useful if you do not have a professor or TA to provide context.

My mistake, a Critique of Practical Reason. Pure Reason handles metaphysics and not ethics. There is also Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, which is similar to Practical Reason but written earlier in Kant's career

Start by questioning every aspect of your life, your actions, your intentions, your thoughts - why are they the way they are? Books and mental models are mere tools that won't get you anywhere, they just add to the conditioning and the "burden" of knowledge. To find your own philosophy of life you have to start by unconditioning your mind so you can become sensitive to the reality as it is and not what the world around you has taught you.

James Maffie's "Aztec Philosophy" is pretty great, as is "Filosofia Náhuatl" by Miguel Leon Portilla. (If you are interested in process metaphysics) Oh and the latter seems to be available online: http://www.historicas.unam.mx/publicaciones/publicadigital/l...

For an introduction to theology and eastern philosophy I suggest Alan Watts' lectures, you can buy them as audio files or try to find them on video streaming websites.

Funny enough I'm listening to a Dr. Dre Alan Watts mashup right now.

Works surprisingly well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6VTQZNULlA

Alan Watts is so eminently samplable. Lots of bands in all sorts of genres sample him.

Here are some of my favorites, from Dhamika:

Eliya - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM1VVCbPfys

Indukala - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXUZoS3LwWo

The Real Substance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llq1Q0us3Ww

Perspective - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNoy4UWd4zA

Luminance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vz5Qkg2SHc

I’ve been listening to the podcast ‘philosophy, the classics’ which gives a quick explanation of the beliefs and work of history’s most famous philosophers.

Good way to get a general understanding of how thought and argument progressed and followed on from one another


I really enjoyed Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, which covers the following philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James, and Dewey.


The first thing one should know about philosophy is that, just like with religion, there is not one but many philosophies. That’s on a general level. Besides that, there is philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, historical philosophy, perhaps even philosophy of philosophy. Much of studying philosophy, unlike in sciences and mathematics, consists of the study of its history (which is a fun subject in its own right).

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but if you want to learn about philosophy, it's better to learn about law.

IMO, law is essentially applied philosophy, whereas philosophy proper is unconstrained by reality. Which is why you run into situations described here:


I recently started my journey with "Crash Course Philosophy" [0] by PBS. They give you a very accessible, high level overview on many topics with practical examples and thought experiments.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNYJQaZUDrI&list=PL8dPuuaLjX...

Most replies (and maybe the author too) assume Philosophy=Western philosophy. If you are looking into developing a personal philosophy you need to know yourself better. Many ways of doing that, some kind of meditation needs to be involved. Words in books would have a limited scope withouth power of action. At that point is not better than poetry, just more difficult and boring.

To get an overview it makes sense to read about the history of philosophy.

It's not practical to read all of platon, just to learn a few important ideas...

Also there is not one true philosophy. Nietzsche is very different from Kant for example.

One book I really want to recommend you:

Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams

It's more a psychology book, but it is deeply philosophical.

Freud tries to analyse how the brain works, using logic and observation of human behaviour.

I would skip the source texts because they are often hard to read. Unfortunately ground breaking ideas and a clear expository style rarely go hand in hand.

Philosophy Hour with Brian McGee was a great BBC show from the 70s where they interviewed top philosophers in an accessible way. Definitely check it out.

There is also the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, which is a top level resource but also very accessible.

Start from the beginning: learn everything you can about Pythagoras--he coined the term philosophy.

I learned recently that hr credited a woman for his philosophical doctrines, the Pythia of the oracle of Delphi. Nice.

The Pythagoreans conducted the first hypothesis driven scientific experiment: casting bronze chimes in numeric proportions (1:2, 2:3, etc), to test the pythagorean theory of harmony in the cosmos.

You could try searching "introductory philosophy course" and it might return some kinds of searches for this... Consider bias, succinct detailing and noteable figures. Some of the greatest philosphers out there had their works changed because of laws and different stories. As for myself. I read biographies and other different understandings of philospophy

There are good introductory books. Like many others, Sophie's World is a good introduction.

In addition, (I'm biased since Spanish is my native language) it's really hard to go wrong with these (in no order of preference): - Manuel García Morente, Preliminary Lessons of Philosophy - Julián Marías, History of Philosophy - Manuel Gonzalo Casas, Introduction to Philosophy.

As many mentioned, getting into philosophy tends to be best done as an active activity with others due to the value of discussion.

Your specific question, as also mentioned by others, seems to be more about psychology than philosophy. I think in order to really advise further, you need to answer for everyone in this thread what you mean by "philosophy" here :)

For a great introduction to ethics, consider The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachels - a classic introductory text: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Moral_Philosop...

For one sentence summaries of various philosophers’ main points (and how they relate to each other), see Deniz Cem Önduygu’s The History of Philosophy: Summarized and Visualized — https://www.denizcemonduygu.com/philo/

I recommend "History of philosophy without gaps". It starts from "scratch" and also ventures out in Islam, India and Africana. So it's not entirely Western. https://historyofphilosophy.net

For an approachable but not shallow introduction to philosophy via Plato, try Holbo and Waring's Reason and Persuasion, available as a free book and Coursera lecture series:


There are a few good resources worth checking out in the end of this article: https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-is-philosophy/

Giving a short list of recommendations feels a little silly because it's so personal and contingent what will work for you at this moment.

However, I'll make one concrete recommendation: Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot. It's about the ancient Greeks and the Stoics and the particular ways they saw thinking as bound up with living. It's a serious book but beautifully written.

It is discussed more at length in this list of 5 "life-changing" philosophy books.


fivebooks.com is a great site where they ask people to recommend five books on their area of expertise and explain why they picked each one. They have a philosophy category and it's organized by topic, including "How to Live".


A treasure trove of lectures on classical philosophy I discovered recently: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLez3PPtnpncT3FVrZqrLG...

For introductions on broad subjects I always go to textbooks, the kind used in Universities in introductory courses.

On philosophy a good one used in many universities is "The Great Conversation" by Normam Melchert.

Bonus tip: try to find it used online. It will be a lot cheaper.

> Are there any books that are considered a must for someone new to the field of philosophy? > Mental models address a lot of 'practical' situations but I am realizing that they fall short when it comes to bigger questions of life. > What path did you follow to develop a personal philosophy?

The "field of philosophy" is different from "spirituality/personal philosophy/meaning of life/etc". If you want an introduction to philosophy, you could start with logic/reasoning/plato/pre-socratics/etc. It will help you think rationally and logically. But it won't give you answers to "life's bigger questions". It'll give you tools to think about them and introduce you to what others think/believe/etc.

If you want the answers to "life's bigger questions", then you are really talking about religion rather than philosophy.

It's hard to see how Plato doesn't address "life's bigger questions".

Where did I said he didn't?

My point was that it ( philosophy ) "... won't give you answers to "life's bigger questions". It'll give you tools to think about them and introduce you to what others think/believe/etc."

Philosophy can lead you to what plato/socrates believed, but it itself won't give you the answers. People who want answers to life's big questions are really seeking religion rather than philosophy. People who want to think about it/explore/etc seek philosophy. Hope that helped.

This was a great intro to political philosophy: “Reconstructing the Classics” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1729979

For a paperback story about the history of western philosophy wrapped up in "story form"..check out "Sophie's World" by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder. Its not a must but it is fun.

My journey in philosophy began by reading Plato’s Euthyphro.

It’s a great place to start.


An interesting introduction may be through studying the history of the development of Philosophy. I think Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is an interesting book to get started with it.

Charles Sanders Pierce and Søren Kierkegaard are both well worth reading.

"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."

--Albert Einstein

There really aren't any must-read books, except for certain areas there are a bunch of must-read books, and none of them make a good entry point to the study and practice of philosophy.

Like most mature fields, philosophy has a well developed body of theory, and jargon for discussing it, and understanding it often requires a decent knowledge of the history of philosophy (most philosophy is done in reaction to earlier philosophy). The person here suggesting Heidegger's Being and Time is suggesting the equivalent of "try doing brain surgery" to someone thinking about learning more about medicine. It's literally one of the hardest texts to even start, let alone understand.

From your question I get the feeling that you're not looking to gain academic expertise in philosophy so much as general understanding and practical application to your life. So, here's a suggested list of things to try and see which seem accessible and applicable to you:

1. Listen to the podcast A History Of Philosophy Without Any Gaps [0]. It's an excellent high level survey of the history of philosophy that does a good job making the very abstract ideas concrete and applicable, without getting into the weeds. It's also a gentle introduction to the jargon.

2. Take a university course on contemporary moral issues. Every philosophy dept in North America runs this course regularly as one of the best hooks into the field for students. It directly takes current issues like abortion, pornography, climate change, etc. and discusses them in terms of moral philosophy, introducing the key concepts along the way. I have a friend teaching philosophy whose central work now is on the moral issues surrounding sex with robots [1].

3. Read Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance. This book is not very good philosophy, or as an introduction to Zen or motorcycle maintenance, for that matter. But I read it in my teens and fell in love with what the author does, namely thinking really hard and rigourously about his life, his circumstances, and his place in the universe, and walking through all that thinking in a pretty clear and compelling way. It doesn't help with philosophical knowledge much, but it's an excellent depiction of the mindset that pursues philosophy, questioning and reasoning about everything.

4. Read some Plato. His works are small and topical, the dialog form is very accessible, the Socratic method is a great application of rigourous thinking and analysis, and you're definitely dealing with some of the foundational ideas in philosophy that keep recurring in various ways. The list at https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2019/08/18/a-platonic-r... is a pretty good reading order, but read only as far as Plato holds your interest.

For more advanced stuff that's also contemporary here's a list of some essays or books that are well-written, fairly important in their area, and raise interesting questions:

* Descarte's Meditations [2] is frequently used as an accessible introductory text

* Thomas Nagel's What Is It Like to Be a Bat? [3] (someone else mentioned this as well)

* Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons [4], especially section 3 where he discusses what constitutes personal identity in the context of Star Trek style transporters.

* W.V.O Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism [5], on truth and logical positivism

I did a BA Honours in philosophy and it was life changing only insfar as I spent those years reading, writing and analyzing. It screwed my head on very tightly. I didn't have strong opinions on most philosophical topics coming out of the degree, but I felt very much equipped to read and understand philosophy and apply it to my life.

[0] https://historyofphilosophy.net/

[1] https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/robot-sex

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditations_on_First_Philosoph...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_It_Like_to_Be_a_Bat%3F

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasons_and_Persons

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Dogmas_of_Empiricism

+1 for Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance -- it was that book that made me sign up for philosophy 101 at Uni.

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